The One Tree

the one tree

 

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/.

 

Hug

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Writer: Ali Hardiman. Performer: Madi O’Carroll. Run time: 13.31 mins.

 

The first thing that strikes you about this monologue is the way that Cliona is dressed. Green shower cap, a blue boiler or hazmat type suit, goggles on her head and too big blue gloves offset by pink lipstick. She is creating a video diary inspired by Matt Damon’s film The Martian. The intention is that this will be left behind for future generations, to record for posterity what it was like to live through a global pandemic. It quickly becomes more than this. As she talks into the camera her video diary becomes more personal; delving into her childhood, friends, family and living situation. Like all diaries this one starts to show different strands of her life come together, pieces click into place and certain things become more visible.

Cliona met her best friend aged five in the junior infants class when there were both placed on the red table. For her it was love at first sight. Their friendship continued over the years, certainly long enough for them to see the film together at the cinema. Jack is her safe harbour but she doesn’t see what is right in front of her. He can’t keep seeing her so much as he is about to get married and start a family. This doesn’t dislodge Cliona’s self-delusion though. He is still her number one and she thinks that she can still be his. 29 days ago, he was the last person she hugged. At the time they didn’t know that lockdown was coming. He was good at hugs and it appears that she hasn’t had many throughout her life. She reflects that her mother’s hugs were very hesitant, scared, like she was afraid of breaking. There is dysfunction in her childhood. ‘One sister deceased, one sister a bitch, one brother always making their parents cry, an aunt who disappeared upstairs with strange men.’

The over-riding tone though is one of comedy. Cliona turns the painful into humour. Some people will feel sympathy, maybe like her, but many will find her difficult to take to despite the desire to paint a lighter tone. The mix of discomfort, comedy and emotional discovery have been features of previous Hardiman plays (e.g. actor in Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws, writer and actor in Disconnected) and it is a mix that works particularly well. When the moments of comedy break out of her dysfunction we get quite an insight into who she is. In the end, she decides that after this period of isolation is over, she will hug people more. It is a sweet moment that offers the hope of a less lonely road ahead.

Toffee

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 Writer: Ultan Pringle. Performer: Clelia Murphy. Run time: 16.09 mins.

 

“I show up. And sure, why wouldn’t I show up?”

Aisling has stepped outside the back door, brick and window to her back, earphones in. This is a private monologue. Earlier in the day she was in the café at the National Gallery, nervous and contemplative as she was waiting for a date. To pass the time she started to think back: to how she got to where she is, her ex-husband Craig, her two children, the jobs she’s had, but mostly about her new adventure. She is a mature student at Trinity and relishing the chance to learn. Studying classics is something that she thought she would never be able to do, and she is quietly thrilled. Alongside this there is an excellent line about dating feeling “like a cow being wheeled out in front of the butcher”, which expertly and pithily captures the feeling of moving from app to real life, whatever age one is. Aisling’s date, the Italian Marianne, who looks like she doesn’t eat cake and has slight coffee stains on her teeth, shows up and the waiting was worth it. The rest of Toffee focuses on the date and the moments after.

There are hints scattered throughout that life hasn’t always been kind. She sometimes doubts herself and is aware of how different her background is to those of most of the other students. Toffee was first screened at around the same time as the tv adaptation of Normal People, both of which touch on the relationship between studying at Trinity while having little money and not coming from a well-off background. Aisling is 47, divorced, has children, knows what a privilege education is and perhaps because of the fact she had thought this life would never be available to her, she is devouring every minute of her course.

In quite a short space we really get to know Aisling and so much about her. She is an endearing character that is fully fleshed out in just a few minutes, which says a lot about Pringle’s writing. Hearing directly from her, the thoughts that she hasn’t expressed elsewhere, we gain a great insight into her character. The monologue format here is a little like being able to read through her texts; personal and direct. The title matches the character and feeling of the piece well. There is something quietly lovely about Toffee and Murphy was the perfect person for this role.

Aisling leaves the date with butterflies, with hope and excitement deep in her belly. As she looks around and smiles at a stranger, one can’t help but smile along too.

Shard

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Writer: Stewart Roche. Performer: Neill Flemming. Run time: 17.02 minutes.

 

“Once you’ve seen the mask slip from society, there’s no going back.”

Our narrator is sat in a chair facing the camera head on. He is probably in his forties and looks a little tired and worn. His face and hands are grubby and there are dark shadows under his eyes. In the first few lines our narrator tells us “you know about the commune, right?”. And he begins to talk. To who we are not exactly sure but the possibilities become clearer as it goes on.

The narrative jumps back in time. Witnessing the desperate, selfish, somewhat ridiculous rush for bread and milk during the Beast from the East in 2018 triggered something in him. The everyday annoyances, troubles, the lies people tell, that had long existed inside him surfaced in a bubble of disaffection and frustration. After this he started to look for something. What? Who knows what they are looking for? He spent some time becoming a keyboard warrior before he made a connection that saw him move to a commune on the uninhabited Dawlish island off the coast of Mayo. This wasn’t just any island. In the seventies it had been gifted by John Lennon to the king of the hippies. Their commune failed but a group had recently formed that believed that it could be different. This sets in process a chain of events that are shocking, tense and unexpected.

The narrative has been very well written. Roche has done well at showing how a chain of seemingly unconnected events over several years can lead a man to make a decision which would often be seen by others as strange at best and potentially dangerous or lunatic at worst. Flemming was a great choice to embody this character. His facial expression, ticks, mannerisms, the way he eats his biscuit all go toward capturing the characters internal journey. There is an excellent use of foreshadowing at the beginning; images of blood lust, people tearing each other apart and survival come back full force. In his new path in life our narrator eventually finds a type of beautiful purity, a happiness. This also alludes to our own time as many feel the rootlessness and desire for answers and security that the narrator eventually finds. In working towards our own well being will mankind tear each other apart in a bid to be the first to an answer, to a vaccine, to be seen as in charge?

The denouement is somewhat chilling. The man at the beginning is no longer the person sat in front of us at the end. It is testament to Roche’s writing and Flemming’s performance that they take us on this journey without letting the story slip for a moment. Shard is an absorbing story that reminds how enjoyable good story telling can be.

An Unmade Bed

The New Theatre Fight Back 2020 Series

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As early as April The New Theatre set out to prove that even a global pandemic will not stop new theatre from being created and enjoyed. Twelve short monologues were written and performed from the 7th to the 24th and are now available to view on takeyourseats.ie. Free to watch, the creators are hoping for donations to help them through this unprecedented time. Although watching on a screen does not have the same atmosphere as sitting in a theatre it is great that even during a time like this that there is a space for creativity. Also, for someone like myself who has often been prevented from theatre going by illness, if gives one the chance to still enjoy new productions.

 

 

Week One – One: An Unmade Bed

Writer: Elizabeth Moynihan. Performer: Laoisa Sexton. Run time: 11.19 minutes.

 

“Will you come back? You did before.”

 

A breathy voice informs us that the speaker is alone in her bed and we learn quickly enough that the bed has become her world. Her partner has left, even though Ireland is in lockdown, and she has fevered thoughts of going to find him in London. Why did he go? How can he be safe? Clouds gather outside the window and rain begins to fall.

After this introduction the speaker circles back to the heart of her relationship with the unnamed man. Their relationship seems to have been marked by arguments and promises to change. The more she wanted to be with him the more he wanted to get drunk, get high, take life as it comes. Frustrated and increasingly desperate they argue. Her anger and disgust increases, but her longing does not subside. The monologue takes us back to the start of their relationship and its key points before it broke down irretrievably. As with many relationships it is difficult to see from the outside what held them together and their separation is less surprising to the audience than to the speaker.

Moynihan makes great use of metaphor. The unmade bed becomes a boat lost at sea and surrounded by sharks. She wonders why mackerel do not avoid sharks (“haven’t they learnt anything by now”), why the prey walks into the mouth of a predator. The breathy voice continues for the rest of the piece which probably wasn’t necessary however as we quickly see how hurt she has been by his leaving and how her internal aloneness is echoed by the outside world.

These feelings are matched by the camera work and subdued colour palette; white, browns and grey. As the weather changes the bed becomes a boat, the rumpled sheets reflecting the ocean waves, her hair splayed out like foam on the beach. The cinematography perfectly complements the monologue. It would be good to know who was responsible for filming so that they could be properly credited.

The fact that the pandemic is mentioned early on is similar to many of the other productions. Perhaps even in theatre there is little hiding space and the audience must join the speaker in her bed and wait for the sharks to search elsewhere for food.

 

 

 

 

Saint Nicholas

First Written by The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Saint Nicholas – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director: Simon Evans

“In the dark, there are vampires.”

So, first things first. This is Brendan Coyle’s return to the Irish stage for the first time since 2002 and he is reuniting with playwright Conor McPherson for the Irish premiere of Saint Nicholas. For everyone wanting to know if it was worth the wait: it was.

Named “the finest playwright of his generation” by The New York Times McPherson is one of Ireland’s favourite contemporary playwrights. The last time he teamed up with Coyle was on the Olivier Award-winning The Weir in 1999. As a result, expectations were high for the mystical monologue Saint Nicholas.

Commanding and charismatic Coyle plays perhaps the most bad-tempered and disgruntled theatre critic to grace the stage. He wields his pen as if it is full of poison. Renowned and feared among Ireland’s acting community our nameless commentator enjoys the fear and power he holds over others. Jaded and uninspired it has been a long time since he really enjoyed himself, felt something real or created a story of his own rather than commentating on the creations of others. (Those with an axe to grind against theatre critics will definitely enjoy Saint Nicholas.) During a mediocre version of Salome (well, in truth he thought it much worse than mediocre) he becomes infatuated with a young actress. From this point on his life is thrown off course. Unsettled and desperate his actions endanger his career and home life. At his lowest, he meets a man with a youthful face and a strange magnetic pull. This is William. And William is a vampire.

The main stage of Smock Alley is perfectly suited to the frequently dark and mysterious feeling of the play. The sound effects were subtle and used to great effect to maximise emotion and change narrative direction. Lights were kept to a minimum. This is a man who lives his life as the skies turn dark; frequenting pubs and theatres when the sun has gone in. The auditorium is shrouded in a fine haze and the darkness of the story – and of our narrator – is reflected in the lack of bright light. Lighting designer Matt Daw has worked hard to create a chilling atmosphere. For the second half candles surround the stage and spotlights are used to follow Coyle as he paces the stage.

An exceptional and absorbing production Saint Nicholas is the Dublin Theatre Festival’s crowning glory.

Image: Helan Maybanks