Blood in the Dirt
Dirt in the Blood
The ghost of Bull McCabe is never far away in Rory Gleeson’s visceral and violent, "Blood in the Dirt," a tale of mans love of the land, and of the men who work and own it. Feeling at times like a 21st century take on John B. Keane’s The Field, "Blood in the Dirt" ploughs through many similar themes. As well as foregrounding some fresh and invigorating ideas that make it entirely its own thing. Which, in the hands of an excellent Lorcan Cranitch, grabs you right from the get go, making for a forceful night of theatre.
If Gleeson’s anti-hero, Francis Donnelly, resembles a violent Tipperary farmer trying to protect his land, his barn, and quite possibly his life, he's also a man for whom the dirt in his blood is inherited like sins from the father. A man whom Gleeson’s exploits by way of an iconic male motif to create an absorbing study of masculinity. A motif whose details lie hidden in the small print of Paul Keogan’s superlative barn, which makes exacting use of the space. If a reg plate speaks directly of Tipperary North, copies of Shane and True Grit, and healthy swigs of Wild Turkey lean towards a revisionist Western relocated to Tipperary and Canada. One where pioneering settlers stand their ground, like the heroic High Noon cowboys they imagine themselves to be, and defend their land by law or other means should someone try to take it. In this womanless universe, whatever the talk about good men and grace, it’s the man who’s quickest to the draw, landing the first dirty blow, who’s usually the last man standing. Something the gunless cowboy Francis knows only too well. The ramifications of which are brought home with violent and fatal finitude when he’s attacked one night protecting his barn.
Like a segment from Top Gear, "Blood in the Dirt" takes off like a high speed Bugatti, going from 0 to 160 mph in its opening 2.5 seconds, before settling down into a lot of verbal dazzle explaining how and why everything is, finally kicking back into high gear for its close and tearing off towards the only real place it can convincingly go. If, unlike Top Gear, it never becomes tedious, that’s because Cranitch hauls you by the scruff of the neck into the car with him, all hard breathing and words hurled like thick clods of muck, delivering an experience as viscerally earthy as it is exhilarating to watch.
If director Caitríona McLaughlin makes some compositionally curious choices in places, with Cranitch looking stage left for extended periods the audience sitting stage right get an overly prolonged view of his back, her managing of pace proves superb throughout. Not so Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh’s intrusive and unnecessary score, which throbs and tinkles distractingly. And Cranitch’s performance is something you do not want to be distracted from. Steeped in boiling blood and thunderous howls, Cranitch's Donnelly is two frayed threads away from completely snapping. A tortured and tormented tension Cranitch beautifully establishes, swelling into every word with his booming presence, which the theatre, never mind the stage, feels barely able to contain.
If "Blood in the Dirt" proves narratively weak for having too few places to go, its study of violence and masculinity is one that is painfully and compellingly wrought. Immersed in a language full of the muddied, bloodied, soil and stone of the land, "Blood in the Dirt" proves visceral and powerful in equal measure. All brought vividly to life by a towering performance from Cranitch.
"Blood in the Dirt" by Rory Gleeson, presented by Landmark Productions and Keynote Productions, runs at The New Theatre until November 30.