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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2016: The Remains of Maisie Duggan


Death has rarely felt this good

Maisie Duggan is dead, and it feels wonderful. All she needs now is for people to accept it. Her husband, known only as Himself, thinks she’s off her rocker. As does her son Tadhg, though Tadhg isn’t exactly the brightest spark. But Maisie’s adamant she’s a ghost and sets about digging her own grave under the kitchen table. The return of an unrepentant prodigal daughter, Kathleen, only adds fuel to the fire. London’s made a man of her in the past twenty years and she has a world of chips on her shoulder. As toast is made and cats are given mouth to mouth, the red, red robin bopping along sees the Duggan family unravel and hell unleashed in a North Cork kitchen. Dark, deadly and deliciously funny, ‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan’ by Carmel Winters is a stunning tour de force.

In Carmel Winters' excellent script ghosts, both past and present, need to be acknowledged and death can feel like the ultimate liberation. With its grim, violent, rural landscape steeped in death, dark comedy and a cast of oddball characters, comparisons between Winters' script and the plays of Martin McDonagh are bound to be made. But closer inspection confirms this is a landscape of Winters’ own design, and whatever similarities they might share Winters is moving in a different direction to McDonagh. There’s something unique about Winter’s disturbing landscape, which immerses you completely, given shape and substance by a team of Abbey veterans and several first timers making their Abbey debut.

Bríd Ní Neachtain (Maisie) and Rachel O’Byrne (Kathleen). Photograph by Ros Kavanagh.

With production values across the board being astoundingly high,‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan’ is a masterclass in technical excellence. Sinéad Cuthbert’s costume designs exude the power of simplicity and understatement. A terrific lighting design by Sarah Jane Shiels reinforces her reputation as one of the best around, giving ghostly depth and deathly dimension to an incredibly detailed set by Fly Davis. Davis’ mud spattered set is utterly stunning, merging decrepit rural kitchen with abattoir, with a killing room in a slasher movie. Against which Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s composition and sound design is both powerful and mesmerising, being eerily understated, like a sinister presence felt but barely seen, whispering in your ear. Director Ellen McDougall, making her Abbey debut along with Davis and Faye Braithwaite, looks as if she's in a league of her own with ‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan,’ crafting a near flawless production with her perfectly chosen cast.

John Olohan as Himself, a loud, bombastic, patriarchal nightmare, delivers a brave and blisteringly raw performance. As does Rachel O’Byrne as Daddy’s daughter Kathleen, whose brooding, violent temperament risks alienating everyone, until O’Byrne shows us the truth at the heart of the monster. Cillian Ó Gairbhí making his Abbey debut as the peacemaker Tadhg, hapless, hopeless and in deep need of affection, is scene stealingly brilliant. As is Bríd Ní Neachtain as the loveable, lost and life affirming Maisie, a woman who's had enough and embraces death just so she can finally experience living.

Bríd Ní Neachtain (Maisie). Photograph by Ros Kavanagh.

As The Abbey Theatre, and hopefully Irish theatre, moves into a new era of gender awareness, some are concerned that the need to redress gender imbalance through the conscious programming of more female playwrights will somehow result in inferior quality work. These unfounded concerns can easily be alleviated by going to see ‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan’ and seeing just what it is we've been denying ourselves. Hilarious and heart breaking, ‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan’ is a bloody, brilliant production. One you just can't afford to miss.

‘The Remains of Maisie Duggan’ by Carmel Winters runs as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival on the Peacock stage at The Abbey Theatre until October 29th

Times: Mon – Sat 8pm, Matinees Sat 2.30pm

Ticket prices: €13 – €20 / Concessions €13 – €18

For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre

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