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Dublin Fringe Festival 2018: Lex Talionis

Lex Talionis by Liam Heylin. Image by Aoife Cahill


Kickass is a Thing with Feathers

Anthropomorphic allegories, moral tales in which animals are endowed with human characteristics, are as old as the hills. Thanks to Disney, the animals nowadays are usually endearing little creatures whose exploits are all warm and fuzzy. But there are exceptions. Animal Farm by George Orwell being an allegory with a lot more bite. Then there’s the heartrending Watership Down. But if you thought either of these was rough, welcome to Liam Heylin’s “Lex Talionis.” One thing’s for sure, Disney’s unlikely to turn this tale of warring crows and magpies into a movie any time soon. For even with its few hiccups, “Lex Talionis” is one kickass production, featuring one kickass ensemble.

In Heylin’s taut script, the city of Cork is for the birds and each species sticks to their own if they know what’s good for them, scavenging on the mean streets the best way they know how. It can be tough when kindness is as scarce as good food. But you live by posturing your masculinity so no one hurts you, or yours. And you learn how by listening to those who know how to nurture the nature you need to survive. Like the rook, Hugh, who knows more than a thing or two about the city and who to stay away from. Like magpies. But young rook, Mooney, hasn’t even half a brain to listen. For Mooney prefers hanging with young magpie Max who takes what he wants, when he wants, and is afraid of no-one. Except for fellow magpie Dónie, who has a heartless, sinister streak a mile wide. One night, when a murder is committed, secrets are revealed and choices have to be made as Lex Talionis, the law of retaliation, comes into play. But if it’s always an eye for and eye, how can you hope to find redemption, or stop the world from going blind?

If it takes awhile to tune in to Heylin’s language and images, a situation not helped by hurried delivery at times, it’s an effort well worth the short wait. For Heylin’s script bristles and crackles with energy. Aside, that is, from a monologue wedged in immediately following the murder. One which seems to self-consciously aspire to belong in a Shakespearean or Grecian tragedy. Indeed, it’s the only time Heylin seems to stop trusting his audience to get the richness and subtext beneath his words, trying to milk the murder for all its worth. Yet once normal service is resumed, director Katrina Foley steers a successful, if sometimes unsteady course towards home. For Foley can struggle with pace at times, and with negotiating transitions between scenes. Not helped by a car crash of a sound design which feels like a random mix tape grabbed on the way out the door. Yet where Foley excels is in eliciting some of the most impressive performances to be seen anywhere in the festival.

Using females to play males (a self-conscious reversal of Shakespeare perhaps) allows Foley to put together an extraordinary and exciting female ensemble. In the often thankless role of young rook Mooney, who often functions merely to set up the other characters, Sinéad Donnelly delivers a fine performance. Shoulder shrugging and shaping her way through the world, Donnelly knows when to let loose, and does so with style. More importantly she knows when, and how, to keep it reined in and support those around her which she does superbly. Such as a hugely impressive Aisling McCarthy as the alpha-male rook, Hugh, whose heartfelt performance gets deeper and better with each passing scene. Bláithín Macgabhann’s dark and dangerous Dónie is something special altogether, with Macgabhann delivering a truly remarkable performance of a being that twists in pain and is twisted with hatred. But it’s Sinéad McGee as young magpie Max, who almost steals the show in a performance whose flow and attention to detail is mind blowingly gorgeous. Individually, each delivers moments of pure magic. Together, they make for one kickass ensemble delivering an irresistible powerhouse of a performance.

“Lex Talionis” takes time to tune in and its obvious monologue does it no favours. Performatively, it can be sloppy in transitions and pace needs tweaking and tidying. Yet even as it stands, “Lex Talionis” is still a kickass production featuring a truly exciting ensemble. We might be only halfway through the festival, but already “Lex Talionis” is looking like one of this years highlights. Catch it if you can, for “Lex Talionis” is not to be missed.

“Lex Talionis” (a tale of vengeance and feathers) by Liam Heylin, presented by Wandering Star Theatre Company, runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018 until September 16

For more information visit Smock Alley Theatre or Dublin Fringe Festival 2018

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