Dinner in Mulberry Street – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre
Writer: Fitz-James O’Brien
Adaption: Michael James Ford
Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh
In Dinner in Mulberry Street Christmas in New York is falling far short of a fairy tale. It is 1857 and newlyweds Agnes and Dick have fallen on hard times. Unable to find work they must use every ounce of creativity and initiative that they have to avoid starvation. As the drama unfolds pieces of their former life are brought to life. Agnes was a social heiress; used to the finer things in life and without a care in the world. When she met Dick, a charming and worldly young man with big ideas they fell in love. Marrying for affection saw them abandoned by their wealthy relatives and left navigating a world of poverty. Having sold all that they own and resorting to using the last of their furniture for firewood, they are in need of a miracle. With Christmas just around the corner will our couple find salvation in time?
The entire play takes place within their tenement room. The world outside is alluded to and feels as though it is pushing inwards. There are thugs on the corner and the ever-present fear of the landlord is stark when a surprise knock comes to their door. Based on a short story by Cork-born Fitz-James O’Brien Dinner in Mulberry Street is of its time. Although an engaging and hopeful story an opportunity to do something a little different was missed. The financial difficulty that the couple found themselves in could have been further drawn out. References to the perilous rental situation and financial strain of the Christmas period should have been particularly poignant.
Under set designer Andrew Murray Bewley’s has been turned into a mid-nineteenth century tenement home. The pallet bed in the corner and furniture made of wine crates immediately placed the action in the poverty and grime of the 1850s. The table set to the back of the stage remains bare except for a tablecloth. This is where much of the action is focused as Agnes and Dick fantasise about past meals and bring them to life with their imagination. A fire faces into the stage and Colm Maher’s lighting design complements the feel of the play as the stage is imbued with warmth and light at key moments.
There were some artful moments of comedy under the direction of Bairbre Ni Chaoimh. As Agnes and Dick role-play their old lives and past meals that they have relished, they each take on the part of former butler Hamish; slipping into Scottish accents to differentiate each character. This was carried on into the comical fight scene between Giacomo and Dick which was entertaining to watch. Ashleigh Dorrell played the part of frustrated, hungry, hopeful wife wonderfully. Subtle changes in mood and hand gestures let the audience into her character. The central relationship is well played and Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill as Dick make a convincing couple.
Dinner in Mulberry Street is a pleasant Christmas treat.