Dublin Theatre Fes­ti­val ends on two very high notes Dig­nity and the right to si­lence

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - THEATRE -

Splen­did per­for­mances in clever, witty plays — it’s been a fine fes­ti­val, writes Emer O’kelly

Pea­cock Theatre

EVEN in 2018, there is still a body of opin­ion (mostly male, but not ex­clu­sively) that believes that a woman walk­ing alone at night is “ask­ing for it”.

So way back in 1993, if a young woman snogged pub­licly at length with her boyfriend at a party, and then dis­ap­peared into a bed­room to have sex with him, was she “ask­ing” to be held down by an­other man, and bru­tally raped by a third, as well as hav­ing her nose bro­ken dur­ing the at­tack? And what­ever the rights and wrongs, would it in­evitably de­stroy her life?

Those are the ques­tions (par­tic­u­larly the last) posed by Deirdre Ki­na­han’s new play Rath­mines Road (at the Pea­cock in a co-pro­duc­tion be­tween the Abbey and Fisham­ble). And she in­ter­ro­gates them ad­mirably through cred­i­ble char­ac­ters and their sep­a­rate cred­i­ble an­guish.

San­dra, vic­tim of the long ago vi­o­lent rape, is back in Dublin from Lon­don, where she is hap­pily mar­ried to Ray with two young chil­dren. Her par­ents are dead and the fam­ily home has to be sold. Nat­u­rally, she con­tacts old school friend Linda who hap­pens to be an es­tate agent. Linda ar­rives with her own hus­band in tow — and he is in­stantly recog­nised by San­dra as the man who vi­o­lated her.

Ki­na­han deals with the hor­ror in pu­ta­tive se­quences as San­dra plays out the pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios and their con­se­quences in her head. They all seem to have only one out­come: that Ed­die, who does not even re­call his ter­ri­ble crime and can’t ac­cept that it is a crime in the first place, will be the only one to walk away without be­ing dam­aged.

The cen­tral ques­tion over­rides all: will speak­ing out in our new cli­mate of sex­ual hon­esty mean San­dra pays an even greater price than she has al­ready paid in her haunted dreams? Will jus­tice in­stead be­come vengeance, and will it dev­as­tate her own life and many more?

Mod­ern fem­i­nist the­ory would say speak and be damned to all: your story must be heard, what­ever the price. But there are thou­sands of San­dras out there who also be­lieve in the right to si­lence. And Ki­na­han’s play raises their coura­geous shad­ows. Be­cause to carry the haunt­ing within your­self for­ever can be the coura­geous way — maybe a lot more coura­geous and dig­ni­fied than to be her­alded on so­cial me­dia as a fem­i­nist hero­ine.

‘Mod­ern fem­i­nist the­ory would say speak and be damned to all...’

Tech­ni­cally, the ad­di­tion of trans­gen­dered old school­friend Dairne in the mix seems a bit ex­tra­ne­ous, and there are awk­ward­nesses in con­struc­tion — but over­all Rath­mines Road is a fine play that (un­usu­ally in Ki­na­han’s work) doesn’t of­fer tidy re­demp­tion.

Karen Ardiff leads a splen­did cast un­der Jim Cul­leton’s di­rec­tion: Char­lie Bon­ner as Ed­die, Enda Oates as Ray, Janet Moran as Linda and Re­becca Root as Dairne.

******* Yes, vam­pires ex­ist. For the­ists of var­i­ous kinds, they are the liv­ing dead, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of evil on earth. For the doubters and the ra­tio­nal­ists they are the mock­ing shad­ows of the fears they have yet to con­front.

In 1996, it took a young play­wright called Conor Mcpher­son to bring them ra­tio­nally alive, mock­ing them while ac­knowl­edg­ing their power. His play was called St Ni­cholas, and not merely did it dis­sect the vam­pires, it gave them be­ing: they are all of our per­sonal dev­ils, con­trol­ling us with their malev­o­lence, while se­duc­ing us with their seem­ingly ir­re­sistible siren songs.

The pro­tag­o­nist of St Ni­cholas is a theatre critic, boozy, pow­er­ful, pre­ten­tious, lousy hus­band, worse fa­ther (and not nearly as pow­er­ful as he believes). And the vam­pires are wait­ing for him.

Run­ning, al­ways run­ning, from self-knowl­edge, from truth, above all from the fragility of re­al­ity. Run­ning into the arms of the whiskey, the pint, the wine, the easy arms of the imag­ined surcease of sex. Yes, the vam­pires are wait­ing.

Mcpher­son turns this tale of a lost soul into what at times is an hi­lar­i­ous tale of mind fan­tasy as his pro­tag­o­nist, seek­ing es­cape from the ed­i­fice of dis­gust and hypocrisy that his life has be­come, pur­sues a fan­tasy ac­tress from Dublin to Lon­don, only to fall into the grasp of a vam­pire sect who co-opt him as their pimp. In re­turn for “room and board” — even an el­e­gant study — he will tour the night spots, se­duc­ing the young and beau­ti­ful into for­got­ten nights in the home of Wil­liam, the lead vam­pire. They will never re­mem­ber what has hap­pened, ex­cept the vam­pire bites will be there.

We all have our dev­ils, Mcpher­son says; and un­til we con­front them, we can’t squeeze the poi­son out of the vam­pire bites. In this al­le­gory, it’s booze, but it could be any­thing.

In St Ni­cholas, Conor Mcpher­son presents a whole world of phi­los­o­phy: you lose count of the pearls of wis­dom (usu­ally in the fun­ni­est lines) as he fi­nally re­minds us that we re­flect our­selves, and we’d bet­ter stop blam­ing the world out­side our­selves.

It’s a clever, witty play, given a mar­vel­lous new pro­duc­tion from the Don­mar Ware­house, and with a per­for­mance from Bren­dan Coyle that is an ob­ject les­son in stage-craft. It is not, how­ever, (as claimed) an Ir­ish pre­miere: Brian Cox orig­i­nally played the role of the theatre critic at the Beck­ett Cen­tre in Trin­ity.

At Smock Al­ley, it’s di­rected by Si­mon Evans, de­signed by Peter Mck­in­tosh, with light­ing and sound re­spec­tively by Matt Daw and Christo­pher Shutt.

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