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Amy McElhatton, Siobhán Cullen and Kate Stanley Brennan in Crestfall. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey


Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right

It's a case of two wrongs don't make a right in Druid Theatre’s revival of Mark O’Rowe's problematic “Crestfall”. For a start, O’Rowe’s 2003 play still remains a problem. Something director Annabelle Comyn’s equally problematic approach only compounds. Revolving around three women trapped in a town without pity, whose paths cross culminating in an act of orgiastic violence, O’Rowe appears to be striving to channel primal and elemental forces as sex, death, and violence converge in a series of gendered power struggles. A place where Greek and Shakespearean tragedy meet as hell hounds unleashed tear through the streets while sacrificial animals float downstream. Where a one-eyed cyclops might be evil incarnate, and a good man betrayed might massacre the damned. Sidestepping, for the most part, direct engagement with O’Rowe’s wild, irrational forces, Comyn opts to engage with “Crestfall” as a series of cause and effect scenarios to foreground its societal and gender constructs. A move which sees “Crestfall” lose out on both fronts, never digging deep enough to crack open some real, visceral power, nor elevating its gender concerns beyond the academic. In the end, if its gender message is self obviously clear, its dramatic waters remain muddied.

“Crestfall’s” representation of victimised women as abused virgins perpetuating abuse, loving mothers who hate their men, and junkie whores looking for dignity, reinforces ideological types rather than characters. A position further reinforced by all three monologues embodying an overwhelming sense of self-aware immediacy. Throughout, O’Rowe’s stuttering, stammering nursery rhyme rhythm stop-starts in interrupted streams, flowing at times with beautiful cadence, at others getting in its own way and tripping over itself with a self-conscious clunkiness. Something Comyn negotiates incredibly well for the most part, foregrounding her search for the rational in the irrational. As do her constrained cast of Kate Stanley Brennan as the abused and self-abusing Olive, Siobhán Cullen as the betrayed yet devoted mother, Alison, and Amy McElhatton as the junkie whore with a heart, Tilly, who push against the restrictions to deliver convincing, if not always compelling performances. With Comyn placing emphasis on words over body, all three often seem more effective, physically, outside of monologue rather than when in. If all three find moments of perfect fusion, too often they look, and sound, like good girls trying to play at being bad, safe behind their reasons and explanations, rather than conveying their Medea-like experiences of unimaginable anguish the words seem to be striving for. “Crestfall” certainly speaks of it often enough, we just don’t ever really get to experience it.

Crestfall by Mark O'Rowe. Image by Stephen Cummiskey

Oversimplification informs Aedín Cosgrove’s set design which highlights the theme of trapped women with an unimaginative obviousness, having them contained within a cell without an exit resembling a container or a storage unit. Yet what this design locks in is far less than what it locks out. The poisonous atmosphere of O’Rowe’s dark, dystopian landscape, the ‘around here’ of its dysfunctional, populated community, is left entirely to the words to convey. With Cosgrove’s lighting design often proving distracting, technically it all begins to get in the way after a while. Similarly, with Doreen McKenna’s costume designs which suggest the institutionalised, and some other obvious associations, focusing attention in a very particular, uniform, and narrow direction.

If O’Rowe seems to be trying to elevate the ordinary to the epic, making mythic the violence of the everyday, Comyn seems to be attempting to go in the opposite direction, trying to make sense of experiences which seem to make no sense. In the end, “Crestfall” feels at times like Spaghetti western meets docu-drama, or like hearing word of mouth accounts of atrocities committed by, and to, people you never really know. Feeling as if everyone, uncharacteristically, played it a little too obvious and a little too safe, “Crestfall’s” tale of girls interrupted by language, by life, by men, by perpetuated repeated patterns, is not all it might have been, yet it still yields moments of quiet intensity.

“Crestfall” by Mark O’Rowe, directed by Annabelle Comyn and produced by Druid Theatre, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until August 12th .

For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre

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