Woman Undone – Project Arts Centre
Text and Lyrics: Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan, and Mary Coughlan
Original Music: Valgeir Sigurdsson
Director: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
Woman Undone premiered at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre and from the queue of people waiting to go in it was clear that this was one of the theatre seasons big draws. For someone unfamiliar with Mary Coughlan the reasons soon became clear.
Mary has lived quite a life. We are informed in the opening that she has paved the way for women, and been one of Ireland’s best-loved singers. But we are also told that she has lost much in the process. This is the story of how she became herself; how a young girl became unraveled; and it is the story of her relationship with her father. As her early life is re-imagined on stage the adult Mary is able to step in and comment. At times her anger and fury are palpable. At others, the fear, confusion, and sorrow pour from the stage. Woman Undone features alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and mental illness. Seen through the prism of Mary’s life these themes reflect many of the tropes of the Irish woman over the past six decades.
Four women dressed as men are first to take to the stage. They are the group Mongoose. Their musical additions complement the haunting score and each person takes on an active role in the re-imaging. Mary’s father, played by Molly O’Mahony, is smart and sure in his army uniform. However, when she is born he doesn’t know what to do with a daughter. He is awkward and uncomfortable around her. The choreography is very well done; showing how loving relationships can be full of pain. Dancer Erin O’Reilly was mesmerising and vital throughout. From the moment she crawled onto the stage as the infant Mary she takes ownership of the role, using movement to tell the often dark and harrowing story.
The set design complemented the action perfectly. A red car to the left of the stage; broken, full of music, steam and the possibility of life. Mary’s life froze when she was involved in a car accident and much of her later trauma comes back to moments spent trapped in that red car. It holds her in place until she is able to break free of the past. Audiovisuals and strobe lighting are used at points of high emotion to elevate the production.
When Mary sang she dominated the stage. The only slight niggle: there were a few moments of speech that showed that more work needs to be done on enunciation and projection to ensure everyone in the theatre space can hear. With such an important piece of theatre, it would be a shame for any of it to be missed.
Mary’s life has involved a lot of pain and hardship. Tonight this pain was turned into art. Emotional, moving and at times deeply sad, it took several minutes to get one’s breath back after the ending.
Image: Simone Rudolphi