The Puffin’s Nest – The New Theatre, Dublin
Writer: Oliver McQuillan
The Puffin’s Nest is currently playing at Dublin’s The New Theatre. It marks an assured return to the stage for writer and actor Oliver McQuillan. Having taken a break from acting (after starting his career at Dublin’s Lantern Theatre) McQuillan has recently returned to acting and The Puffin’s Nest is his first feature length play for several years. Dublin’s theatre scene is all the better for having McQuillan back in it.
One enters the theatre through a bookshop where there is time to mingle with other guests and buy refreshments. In the theatre itself the stage was turned into a living room with a table and three chairs, a CD playing Pachelbel in the background and a drinks cupboard open and ready for action. This comfortable domestic setting invites the audience right into the heart of the home and family. What is most notable however about the setting is the isolation. The family live in their cottage on a cliff path overlooking Dublin Bay. The beauty of the scenery only serves to heighten the isolation and separation that creates the environment in which the action on stage emerges.
Puffins breed on coastal cliffs or off shore islands and they nest in crevices, among rocks, or burrow into the soil; somewhat like the family of the play who nest on a cliff path seemingly barely touched by the outside world. The title of the play acts as a recurring metaphor throughout, first uttered to some derision by wife and mother Jane (played by Ann Russell) before being picked up on by the rest of her family.
The Puffin’s Nest begins with a long term couple in their living room speaking in that way that only years of intimacy can engender, in which every comment could be construed as either close chat or bickering. The alcohol flows, particularly for Harold (played by Tom Laidlaw) propelling the characters forward. The quiet, although not altogether happy nest, is thrown into disarray with the return home of their only child; an aspiring actress who has found herself pregnant (played by Ellen Cloney). This throws into light the differences between the three, as Harold’s protestations that he has been a good and supportive father are undermined at every turn by his wife and daughter. Further his ideals are bought into question in a quietly humorous way as the family argue over burnt ground before making up and moving on. For Harold they are the only two women in his life.
However many years ago there was a third; an American woman whom Harold wooed then deserted. As she comes back to haunt him and extract her revenge the play takes an unexpected turn, keeping the audience hooked from the beginning to the end. As Harold learns to believe in ghosts his world is opened up by the reintroduction of these women into his quiet life. The play also throws up questions regarding the differences in beliefs and attitudes between the generations; with the daughter being both more liberal and more conservative from her older parents. Their differing religious backgrounds appear to have some responsibility for this disconnect between them and is an interesting twist on the traditional depiction of the Irish home.
The cast worked well together, Russell and Laidlaw playing the parts of frustrated couple particularly successfully with Dempsey bringing an intense focus to her character. Young actress Ellen Cloney who recently graduated from The Gaiety School of Acting shows promise of going on to be an excellent actor. One key marker of this performance is that the time flew by as the plot twists and excellent delivery worked to keep the audience entertained throughout.
Photo courtesy of The New Theatre. Runs until January 24th.