Writer: Tara Maria Lovett. Performer: Pat Nolan. Run time: 15.02 mins.
“The tree started speaking to me the night I got locked on account of the virus.”
The colour palette is subdued, a man is sat alone, head a little down. He looks serious, contemplative and perhaps sad. It is several moments before he begins to speak and we think the tone has been set, but The One Tree is not so predictable. One night, drunk, life impinged upon by the virus, he walks to a crossroads, where a hawthorn tree (female, of course) begins to speak to him. This is not just any tree (although the fact it talks and calls humans’ eejits is an early indication of this). The only one of its kind, it is known across the county. Standing tall at the centre of a four-point crossroads hawthorn trees in Ireland for growing of their own accord. They were not planted by human hands and they are often regarded with fear and superstition. Associated with death and sex, many people avoid hawthorn trees, however Jamesy finds himself in a full-blown conversation with this one. He quickly remembers that this tree has been important throughout his life.
It was under this tree that he first shifted a girl. Her name was Gracie. Sweet with black hair and a kind smile they kissed and fumbled as innocent fifteen year olds. Over time they fell in love and she thought the world of him. The tree tells him she would have married him; insisting on this over and over again. He loved her too but he dithered and they drifted apart. The tree however understands the patterns and cycles of life and death better than he does. Can he learn something from her? After all, Unlike Jamesy the tree knows exactly what it wants: “all you eejits to be gone”. The tree is sparky and spikey, snapping out its frustration. It feels that the “virus is the earth spitting in your face”; that humanity is at the same kind of crossroads.
Shortly after their encounter Jamesy, still thinking of the girl he lost, has to say goodbye to someone else. He has been living with his elderly mammy, looking after her, until she is admitted to hospital where she dies. He goes to collect her personal items but is prevented from seeing her in person. The funeral is subdued. As he says “a virus funeral is none at all” and in Ireland in particular there is something deeply sad and lonely about a sparsely attended funeral with mourners forced to stay away. As one life ends something good starts to blossom. Gracie Riley, from all those years ago, hair still pitch black, takes his hand. The tree, the one tree, knew what Jamesy really wanted and needed even when he did not.
After the funeral, the tree never spoke again. He pilgrimaged to see her often. Now hand in hand with Gracie. He would pick white blossoms for her hair and they would kiss like teenagers again. The longing for the tree to talk to him again doesn’t leave him, but no matter how much he wanted her to, she would not speak to him again. There is a strain of magical realism in Irish literature and theatre and it comes to life perfectly here. The One Tree is touching and poignant, shifting from light hearted to tender and honest. It suggests that the natural world can heal; both people and itself. Maybe this period of isolation, of lockdown, is needed for the environment to have the peace and time to return to itself and heal. This is a beautiful piece full of tenderness that could be expanded into a one hour play.
For information about the hawthorn tree see Dr Marion McGarry’s rte article: https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0506/1136776-hawthorn-tree-ireland-folklore/.