A Troubled Second Album
Ask any successful musician and they’ll most likely tell you that making their first album was ultimately a cinch. It was their second that proved to be fraught with difficulties. The same could be said for Katie Holly’s second play, “Sharon.” Her first play, Marion, seems to have shown a lot of promise by all accounts, and her forthcoming Crowman, with the ever excellent Jon Kenny, would certainly seem to support that belief. But on the evidence of “Sharon,” despite its twee charm and strong performances, you could be forgiven for having some serious concerns.
In Holly’s laboured play, the eponymous Sharon returns home to rural Cork from the big smoke to live with Mammy. Once there, she spends her days resisting the twin social pressures to get married and have babies. And that’s essentially it. There’s some quirky characters in the pub she works at, and in the drama group she attends, that suggest the makings of a rural community. As well as a half hearted love story and an obvious attempt at pathos. But anything resembling real dramatic, or comic, engagement is essentially thin on the ground. Thematically, it doesn’t get much deeper. Women appear to have no real function other than as mothers, the real or the surrogate aunty kind, even if Sharon claims she’s vehemently opposed to this idea. Daddies and families don’t really feature in this romanticised world. One that perpetuates the myth of idealised, Irish motherhood, with the emotional depth of a Hallmark card.
Yet what it lacks in depth “Sharon" often makes up for with an Ireland’s Own styled charm, channelling hints of Maeve Binchy in places. But with little of Binchy’s style, rigour, or exactness. Unexpectedly switching from an attempt at a play to a one-woman monologue with accompaniment, “Sharon” suffers from saying too much and showing too little, even if what it says can sometimes be incredibly smart and funny. ‘Imagine a montage,’ Sharon says. We’d really rather we’d seen it. Indeed, given its almost novelistic style and structure, and lack of any real action on stage, “Sharon” may well have better traction as a radio play. On stage it suffers from too many failings. Its biggest being that it’s never properly challenged, or handled, by its director. If ever one wanted to make a case for a new writer not to direct their own work, this is it.
Showing a painful lack of the most basic of directorial fundamentals, such as stage craft, composition, rhythm, pace, and energy, Holly’s direction is so thin on the ground as to be practically non-existent. As a result, Holly the director poorly serves her cast, her script, and her writer. Thankfully, her three strong cast cover a lot of these sins under a welter of natural talent, whose versatility compensates considerably. Marie O’Donovan conveying a host of characters is always compelling, as is Mark Griffin, also in various roles. Including Sharon’s mother, which Griffin articulates so well at times, once vocal delivery slows down, that he/she risks stealing the show. But that honour firmly belongs to a magnetic Irene Kelleher as the gravitational Sharon around whom all else revolves. All three, especially Kelleher who carries the lion’s share of the focus, do sterling jobs with a weak script and weaker direction. A testament to their individual talents.
Given that this is Holly’s second script you could be forgiven for having expected more. Still, as any successful musician will tell you, you had all your life to get your first album right, the second one has to be completed in a much shorter space of time and under very different conditions. Despite its flaws, “Sharon” suggests that Holly has much more, and better, to offer. For, at its best, “Sharon” has heart, charm, funny moments, and deeply likeable characters. In the hands of a skilled director willing, and capable of challenging the writer to deliver their best, it could have been truly delightful.
“Sharon” by Katie Holly, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until July 7
For more information, visit Bewley’s Café Theatre