Kate Crackernuts, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin
Writer: Sheila Callaghan
Director: Kate Cosgrave
Presented by No Drama Sheila Callaghan has rewritten the Scottish fairy tale, taking it from late nineteenth century Scotland to something with a decidedly more modern sensibility.
As with most good fairy tales’ beauty, jealously and unpleasant step parents set the action moving. Anne is the beautiful daughter of a king. His wife had a daughter called Kate – far less pretty but full of love for her sister. Unfortunately, the queen didn’t feel the same way. She placed an enchantment on Anne, turning her head into that of a sheep. This is an unusual turn of events but jealousy in fairy tales has a way of resulting in these things. Kate, furious at what had happened, wrapped Anne’s head in a green cloth, and set out to ‘fix’ her. Little did she know that it wasn’t just Anne’s life that had been changed that day. Her own future was on a new path. In practice this resulted in a philosophical sheep who feared he had lost his head (not a surprising fear given the context), an ailing moon of a boy / man called Paul who comes to life under disco lights but has lost the ability for words, an enchantress with a fondness for dead crows and much more besides.
The yearning to be needed runs throughout the production and manifests in painful, ugly, recognisable ways. It is possible to interrogate the text for a feminist reading of the nature of women in relationships and how they have been cultured into valuing beauty and being needed. It is when dancing, sickly, addicted Paul says he needs Kate, that she feels emotion pooling in her thighs, and knows that she will mind him in return for his need. The original tale ends with two marriages; two happy ever afters. In Callaghan’s version both sisters find themselves in the position of trying to change themselves, put themselves second, in order to keep the interest of the men they love. The fast pace and heightened humour ensures the action keeps moving and it is not until afterwards that one takes a moments to realise that, as Kate briefly said, all may not be well. It is a twist on the idea of a happy ending that leaves the audience both satisfied and with a small ball of uncertainty; the knowing that happily ever afters do not exist.
There was a great moment of heightened comedy near the end when everything fell into place in a self knowingly absurdist way that had the audience howling with laughter. The second half played better than the first; smoother, faster, more action and comedy. The text incorporates poetry throughout, some lines of which works better than others. The poetry Kate uses to talk about her newfound loved for the Paul, is particularly lovely and the sheep (go with it) summing up at the end, had some great lines; particularly when he reminded us all that we are always beginning and went on to liken marriage to a cotton thread of misery unravelling forward.
Kate Crackernuts takes place in the Main Stage of Smock Alley and there were a few issues with the staging. One wonders if it would have been better in the Boys School – using the old church windows to show Paul’s dancing sickness while Kate continues on her quest below. In the future it might be a good idea to rope off the side seating areas to keep the audience front and centre. From the reaction of the audience it became clear that there were things – physical comedy, gestures – that those at the sides missed out on. This was perhaps also a side effect of keeping most of the action in the centre and front of the stage and using the back to store props until needed. There were frequent scene changes that required different staging, meaning that set pieces were regularly being moved around while the action continued. Cosgrave dealt with this by integrating it into the show. Having two actors, dressed in white and pvc tutus dance and leap across the stage and at one point even interact with the cast. Although this was a good idea work needs to be done to make the transitions smoother in the future.
Kate Crackernuts was an interesting choice for No Drama, who are, in theory at least, an amateur dramatics group. I say in theory because their last production at Smock Alley, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, easily stood its ground next to ‘professional’ productions. Kate Crackernuts is a challenging piece to stage and it is impressive that they decided to take this one. No Drama certainly haven’t made it easy for themselves. There were some bumps in the production but overall Kate Crackernuts is a modern retelling of an old story; told with enthusiasm, humour and a large dash of absurdity. A philosophical comedy unlike anything you have ever seen on the Smock Alley stage before.
Runs Until 13th July 2019.