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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dear Ireland: Part Three

Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited

Despite Dear Ireland: Part Three delivering a more cinematic feel, several productions still found themselves mired within prose styled structures. Again, communicating digitally dominates as a format. Yet several play cleverly with the device to deliver strong performances. Making for a strong overall showing, despite one major disappointment.

The drawback of text superseding screen is evident in the ploddingly paced These Four Walls by Sinéad Burke, in which Eleanor Walsh’s school teacher talks about her students, wanting to give them what they need and not just what the syllabus requires. The cautionary A Hand of Jacks, by Dermot Bolger, might kick off with the visual flourishes of a full scale movie, replete with credits and sentimental soundtrack, but again there’s a performative disparity between image and text. Throughout, action often amounts to little more than a voice over as Dawn Bradfield ponders ponderously on death and grief. Kathy Barry's by Karen Coogan, sees Siobhán McSweeney observing the impact of lockdown with the professionalism of a seasoned curtain peeper, distilling richly observed details into a literary flow laced with hope. West, by Ursula Rani Sarma, finds Owen McDonnell as a grief stricken man struggling with the death of his father back home. Dark and doom laden, the endless ‘what if’s’ posit endless negative scenarios, leaving him wondering if he’ll be able to cope if things get worst.

A more successful embracing of the visual medium is very much evident in The Meadow by Jimmy Murphy, which finds a breathy Clare Dunne, with a compliant ladybird, waxing pastoral by the riverbank as she remembers her Nan. Delivered as an inner monologue, Dunne meanders in moody silence through woods as she reconnects to the forgotten earth for sustenance, even if the cows might need a bit more getting used to. Similarly, the three scened Staring At The Sun by Stacey Gregg, which sees Conor MacNeill tell a fractured tale bordering on the confusing, again built around an economic visual sensibility.

Most successful of all is the sublime I Know You by Zhu Yi, in which Julia Gu’s good girl doppelgänger dishes advice like a reprimanding super-ego. Kicking literary meditations to the curb, Yi’s refreshingly smart tale kicks of with the ferocity of a Sci-Fi thriller. As Irish as a Chinese women enjoying St. Patrick's Day in America, Yi explores cultural difference and the different responses to Covid-19 with fearless good fun, exploiting visual possibilities with ingenuity. Smart, funny, and utterly engaging, humour laced with wisdom is writ large. Communicating with yourself might often be the hardest, but it’s rarely been done better.

Looking beyond the immediacy of lockdown, Pom Boyd’s After This Thing channels her inner 70s to a soundtrack by Mud. As Boyd’s passionate concern for conservation plays out in black and white and colour, Brendan Gleeson’s architect looks down his nose as he advises on the ways of the world. Played with exaggerated arrogance, Gleeson’s easy target is a joy to hate. If Boyd’s embittered satire has Gleeson looking like a child making fun of the headmaster, the conservationist message is vitally important: nothing’s protected. You’ve been warned. And doubly warned with an ironic, Freudian slip of a YouTube commercial cutting an impressive Gleeson off as he wrapped things up. At least during this viewing. Guess nothing really is protected after all. Why expect theatre to be any different?

The idea of looking beyond lockdown continues in Tara’s Hill by TKB, which sees Ericka Roe delivering an online video session live from a homeless hotel. Suffused with a wonderful earthiness, Roe cuts through politics like a refreshing breeze, with the common voice on her discussing Ireland, Leo, and defending her ability to write spoken word. Alone, forgotten, she’s determined not to remain that way, delivering a homage to all the Charlenes everywhere that is more than just talk, talk, talk. For Roe makes you care enough to want to listen in a disarmingly engaging performance. In What We Never Got To Lose by Dylan Coburn Gray, Leah Minto finds familiarity breeds delight when feeling loved and safe with her new boyfriend. Feeling feelings about her dead Mum, her former boyfriend, and her new boyfriend, is it racist of her not to want her future child to be white? For she has stories of old that need to be told, and hopefully there's time after the virus for them to be heard. Or time for new identities to be forged. As in A New Yorker Now? by Meadhbh McHugh, which sees Clare O’Malley as an apprentice New Yorker whose Irish life BC (before Corona), has nothing to say to her now. If only it would leave her alone, her survivors identification constantly interrupted by her concerned family and friends making her question where she really belongs.

Wearing their hearts of their sleeves, two video messages to unborn children bring the curtain down on Dear Ireland: Part Three with considerable style, courtesy of two cracking scripts and two wildly engaging performances. Something Worth Saying, by Colm Keegan, sees a magnificent Owen Roe struggling to impart wisdom. Funny and heartfelt, Roe lures you in with an extraordinarily engaging performance. As does Caoilfhionn Dunne in The Rock by Philip McMahon. The internet might have made her smarter and more stupid, but she’s tired of internalising messages of worthlessness as a lesbian struggling to make a life with her pregnant fiancé.

Despite the worrying intrusion of commercials being a major disappointment on the night, Dear Ireland: Part Three delivers an awful lot to be grateful for. And an awful lot to be hopeful of. But purists, and even those of a not so pure disposition, might well recoil if commercials continue to be part of the package going forward.

One more to go.

The final instalment of Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, will feature on their dedicated Youtube Channel on May 1 at 7.30. All fifty monologues can be viewed online for six months from May 2.

For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.


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