Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Once in a Lifetime
Lynette Callaghan and Deborah Dickenson in Tracy Martin's Once in a Lifetime. Image by Louis Haugh
Three generations of women. Two middle-aged lesbians, a couple of schoolgirls, and three unborn children. Two of which are girls, the third’s future shrouded in uncertainty. If the unborn hear the world outside the womb, these children might never want to emerge. Their prospective family arguing motherhood, parenthood, refugees and responsibilities, and the functioning dysfunctional mess that is family and feminism. Tracy Martin’s superbly smart Once in a Lifetime facilitating a pause to interrogate the role of women in this brave, new, marriage equality, sensitively woke, socially responsible world. Where heavily pregnant mothers still cook dinners and clean up after the women in their lives.
Not that Martin overstates the obvious. Assured of her own script’s strengths, she lets her characters and scenes do the talking. Characters like daughter Ciara, a self-righteous liar with a secret she can’t tell her mother, terrifically realised by Leah Moore. Making her friend Sarah, a scene stealing Deborah Dickenson, her unwilling, and sometimes unwitting accomplice as Ciara considers taking an abortion pill on an evening she believes her parents are out. No prizes for guessing what interrupts her plans. Mother Lorraine, pregnant with twins, returning home unexpectedly following a tough day at her charity organisation where she volunteers unpaid. Followed by her partner, Tanya, whose bad day at the office makes Lorraine’s sound like a vacation. Georgina McKevitt’s swollen Lorraine, and Lynette Callaghan’s wine swilling Tanya both magnificently realised. Martin’s women a marriage of complex opposites; best friends who would sell you out to cover their arses, heartless lawyers defending the indefensible struggling with thorns of guilt, altruistic charity workers with a hardened heart when it comes to getting what they want. As the night plays out around the dinner table secrets emerge, or bury themselves deeper. Currents of pain and anger spilling out like bile, forcing recognition and choices. And the stunned realisation that the future is not looking all that bright unless some things are bravely faced into.
While Martin’s script cleverly conceals hidden depths beneath its everyday guise, not everything is as cleverly realised. Director Una McKevitt, eliciting terrific performances from a terrific cast, neglects other areas that might benefit from her rigorous eye. With Martin’s tale set in an old, family home being renovated to facilitate the new normal, with most of the action occurring around the traditional family dinner table reimagined to reflect new paradigms, the uncredited set design fails miserably to articulate what lies at the heart of Martin’s interrogations. Looking instead like a jumble of junk hauled in from a skip then tossed onstage. Similarly, Philip Stewart’s sound design, which annoyingly rears its head mid-scene or else kicks off too loudly, reminiscent of a child screaming “me, me, me,” desperate to be noticed. Knocking you out of the moment. Further impeding pace, which never feels tight enough. Some judicious pruning by Martin might have helped in that department.
Even so, Once in a Lifetime is a brave, and sometimes brilliant piece of writing. If the end doesn’t tidy everything away, it’s all the more impactive for it. Leaving the audience to wonder what tomorrow will look like for feminism, family and women, and for Martin's brilliantly realised characters? Martin’s impressive script allowing her to think out loud, her vivid characters giving voice to her thoughts. Asking questions of themselves, each other, and us. Ensuring Once in a Lifetime makes for compelling and thought provoking theatre.
Once in a Lifetime by Tracy Martin, presented by Red Bear Theatre Company, ran at Project Arts Centre until Sept 11 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023.