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  • Chris O'Rourke

Tempesta


Stephanie Dufresne and Jack Mullarkey in Tempesta. Image by Barry Cronin

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The Spanish Civil War. A kind of European Alamo in which Communists and celebrated literary figures were defeated by Franco’s Fascists Once history revealed Communism and Fascism to be distinctions without a difference, many shied away from their earlier Communist leanings. But works like Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia or Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls kept the memory of the war alive. Mythologised into a romance of the martyred hero fighting the good fight, and often dying the good death, for a cause larger than themselves. Evident in Tempesta by Deirdre Kinahan. A reminder that when Kinahan focuses on people she can be thrilling. On history and politics, a bit of a dud. On the impact of history and politics on people, capable of knocking your socks off. Mind you, two brilliant performers and an outstanding director help considerably.


Like Titanic, Tempesta’s star-crossed lovers are inspired by real people and events. The Jewish Ellie Rosen, a good girl with a spirited streak, has always been in love with Louis Doyle, an upstart union activist in 1930s Dublin, a boy awash with the romance of war and new beginnings. From childhood they’ve been together, mostly in secret. Ellie’s mother, having fled Odessa, doesn’t like men who engage in political activism. As their desire grows, no good deed goes unpunished leaving Louis in prison and Ellie forced to make a choice between convention and revolution. Two rights making for a wrong turn and the fate that awaits them. Yet if the problems of war torn lovers don’t amount to a hill of beans, in the end all we remember is love.

Steve Wickam in Tempesta. Image by Barry Cronin


With her opening sentence, fusing rape with romantic Spanish sailors, Kinahan’s signals an uneasy dichotomy between history and the personal that runs throughout Tempesta. History making for heavy going as Kinahan front-loads the play with Louis delivering a party political broadcast on behalf of 1930s Communism. Those of the Please Don’t Make Us Listen To This Party shudder as comrades and the proletariat are evoked through overcooked language out of date since the 1980s. Indeed language, uncharacteristically, proves to be Tempesta’s weakest ingredient. The evocation of war and struggle seeing cliches rain down yet never exploding, empty of all terror like children running around shouting Bang Bang. Phrases like “snipers snipe” leaving you to wonder if the writer is feeling okay?


Thankfully, the arrival of Ellie introduces passion of a more physical nature, seeing Tempesta set off on a spiralling dance between romance and reality, convention and revolution. Kinahan’s language at its most evocative when illuminating the conversational everyday inside the plays musical structure. Key phrases echoed and refrained - abhaile, Dear Ellie - sinking deep for not being hammered home. A series of subtle repetitions mirrored in Steve Wickham’s superbly understated soundtrack. Wickham playing live onstage gently accentuating key moments as Jack Mullarkey and Stephanie Dufresne plumb depths the script points towards but often buries beneath over burdened language. Mullarkey turning in a stunning performance as the wide eyed Irish boy ready to fight for the cause. Dufresne mesmerising as the playful night to his revolutionary day. Their relationship so palpable it exists as a third other onstage. The chemistry, energy, and electricity between Mullarkey and Dufresne crackling with life. Marc Atkinson Borrull’s impeccable direction as much choreographic as compositional, weaving beautifully paced energies throughout Molly O’Cathain’s set. Images fashioned from levels, distance, movement as bodies climb, clutch, restrain, separate. Borrull serving up an absolute masterclass in the triumph of imagination over situation.

Stephanie Dufresne and Jack Mullarkey in Tempesta. Image by Barry Cronin


Less Maeve Brennan so much as Maeve Binchy, Tempesta’s love story finds war shapes and misshapes everything, always at the cost of love. If Kinahan’s history feels heavily handled, her political message lands with considerable force. It’s an old one: evil thrives when good people do nothing. We can’t afford to look away when injustice is taking place. Two stunningly crafted performances under one exceptionally gifted director, Tempesta proves wildly romantic and deeply moving. Tempesta Kinahan’s second work at Glass Mask Theatre. Who continue to provide committed support to new writing.


But for how much longer? In the recent round of Arts Council funding, Glass Mask have again received no support. Others, like Verdant Productions, have also suffered adversely on account of complete funding cuts. With Glass Mask also being a venue, not just a company, it makes for a double whammy. We all know there’s a housing crisis in Ireland. But we also have a housing crisis in theatre. If a venue sets itself up on its own steam to promote and support new plays, sacrificing its own time and coin to do so, surely some support is warranted. Especially given its body of work and the ensemble of writers, actors, directors, new and experienced, who have passed through its wings. At this point, Glass Mask must be asking the proverbial “who do you have to sleep with around here to get funding? We’re doing the best we can.”


To be clear, this is not to advocate for Glass Mask per se. I have questions about the way they do certain things and am not always an admirer of their work. Mind you, I could say the same about others. Rather, this is to advocate for a new space where new writing gets presented before an audience whilst being given as much support from a company as possible. At this time, Glass Mask fits the bill. If funding has stipulations, by all means have stipulations. But if venues or companies like Glass Mask don’t meet the criteria, then maybe the criteria needs to be looked at. New venues, not just new artists or projects, need support. The legendary Theatre Upstairs run by Karl Shiels and Laura Honan, which ran as long as it could without funding, helped launch the careers of Kate Gilmore, Thommas Kane Byrne and Lee Coffey to name a few. Offering a real answer to a real need, not waiting for an ideal answer to an ideal need.


No one believes making funding decisions is easy. You have a limited pot of money and a lot of people looking for support. But, true as that is, funding is currently top heavy and Agility Awards can feel like crumbs from the top table. Each year like more cuts in a death by a thousand cuts. It will matter little how many artists, actors, tech, or directors are being trained or develop work if they have nowhere to perform and cut their teeth. Dublin was once a paradise of such places. Focus Theatre. The City Arts Centre. Andrew’s Lane Theatre. The Crypt. The Tivoli. Theatre Upstairs. Artists and audiences need venues committed to developing new works, new writers and new artists. Glass Mask have gone to great pains to try do that. Don’t take my word. Go see Tempesta.


Tempesta by Deirdre Kinahan runs at Glass Mask Theatre until October 28.


For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre


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