about:blank by Adam Wyeth. Image Set Murray
Courtesy of COVID, audio productions find themselves enjoying a theatrical resurgence at present, often aided by visual or digital components. I Feel You Apart From Me by Lark in Dublin Fringe Festival cleverly played with the possibilities of What's App over a day of random messaging, unfolding a sensitive tale of friendship and grief. More recently, poet and playwright Adam Wyeth's hugely ambitious about:blank (****) pushed possibilities even further as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.
Engaged with by phone while walking the city or select locations, or at home on your computer, the former proves the far richer experience; shifting contour lines on screen providing as much visual potency as a screensaver. Thanks to Wyeth's collaborative openness Cormac O'Connor's sound and mixing and Frieda Freytag's sumptuous score form an integral part of the experience. Elevating it from a reading of Wyeth's latest collection (about:blank available from Salmon Poetry) into one that comes close to music itself. Eoghan Carrick directing with a slow brooding pace, with the whole sounding like a guided meditation. Indeed, about:blank gives us much to meditate on, yet goes far beyond being a thinking experience. With so many conversations being two transmitters and no receivers, about:blank makes receivers of us all, inhabiting a liminal space in our headphones. Less story, or play, so much as a poetic experience wrapped loosely in a series of narratives, it reflects a city, its people, its present and its past.
Adam Wyeth. Image uncredited.
If, as Wyeth believes, "all novelists are failed poets," about:blank proves to be a failed novel. Ulysses to be precise. Owen Roe like an earthy Leopold Bloom, Paula McGlinchey the writerly Dedalus, and Olwen Fouéré a curious Molly Bloom traversing a modern and mythic Dublin offering up sights, sounds and insights. If its ending owes more to Beckett than Joyce, it does so with love. At 131 minutes about:blank makes its demands. But then again, so does Ulysses. And both offer rich rewards.
Currently exploring new audio possibilities LemonSoap Productions, working with The New Theatre, in association with An Grianan Theatre, present Ultan Pringle's Marmalade Row (****) If about:blank evokes Ulysses, Pringle's hugely impressive short form work proves to be more Dubliners. Serving up five sensitive vignettes about neighbours living and dying on the same street.
Marmalade Row. Image uncredited.
After a melodic composition by HK Ni Shioradain, an older couple begin talking, initially suggesting a conventional drama for BBC Radio 4. Yet when the colour averse Joan is Marion O'Dwyer, and the memory troubled Harry played by Pat Nolan, and the writing is this well structured and balanced, you're made curious enough to stay for this gentle tale of a married couple with a thorn that has never left their side. A risky move, if hugely enjoyable. And one that sets us up for what Pringle is really after.
If tone remains unchanged, the second vignette pushes at the boundaries of the safe, comfortable radio play. Introducing a dead woman with maggots in her eyes haunting a lonely Adam, an impressive monologue by Pringle, and journeying into sexuality, suicide, loneliness and difference. Difference established as a recurring theme in a moving musical interlude as a young trans man tries to make sense of things. Singer songwriter Sammy Copley as Darragh channelling heartache and hope like a modern Joni Mitchell. If you haven't heard of Copley before, on this evidence you'll be rushing to check them out. A hugely impressive talent.
Sexuality and difference again recur as Jilly McGrath as Alice, and Laoise Murray as Roisin flirt over dinner, negotiating their relationship, their relationships with the dead, and with Grafton Street, beautifully handled and delivered with pitch perfect nuance. As is Zara Devlin as insomniac Sadbh, wondering how the world came to be, wrapping up narrative loose threads while looking towards the stars, finding hope as we move into the future
Sammy Copley. Image uncredited
If Marmalade Row can feel steeped in a Maeve Binchy quaintness, it offers an amended metaphor for an inclusive, modern Dublin we can all call home. Should developers ever have the foresight to build places like Marmalade Row. Like Pringle, director Julia Appleby understands the audio medium perfectly and does an outstanding job balancing and marshalling the competing rhythms, paces and energies. Reading Pringle's script like a musical score to craft thirty-five memorable minutes. Why this on demand production is supposedly sold out makes no sense. The more word of mouth and income the better. And Marmalde Row deserves both. Like about:blank and I Feel You Apart From Me, it offers a testament to the fact that with podcasts, and platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify offering new avenues of engagement and distribution, there's opportunities available for those who have the courage, talent and imagination to take them.
about:blank by Adam Wyeth, in association with the Civic Theatre, ran as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021.
Marmalade Row by Ultan Pringle, presents by LemonSoap Productions with The New Theatre in association with An Grianan Theatre, runs at the New Theatre Nov 9 to Nov 11. Dates at An Grianan Theatre TBC.