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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Island

Laurence Lowry, Conor Donelan, Owen O'Gorman and Pádraig Murray in The Island. Image Al Craig


Aristotle spoke of tragedy purging powerful emotions through catharsis. A word hotly debated by many modern theatre makers. Many diluting its meaning to suggest that simply attending theatre is cathartic. It isn’t. Catharsis is hard won. Requiring a gifted artist to take us through blood, sweat and tears to where fear and terror hide. Like writer Tina Noonan and her searingly powerful The Island. An unflinching interrogation of male sexual abuse in a rugby school in Dublin whose horrors were silenced by shame.

Which is not to say The Island is a perfect play, just that it's often rather brilliant. Noonan’s rapid fire pace, firing like synaptic nerve endings, overloading the whole with an excess of detail. Making sluggish its rollercoaster pace that whisks you immediately into the action. Cool dude Donnelly (Conor Donelan) and pessimistic Pete (Pádraig Murray) return to the former’s apartment after a rugby victory at their old alma mater. Soon joined by the maudlin Mark (Laurence Lowry) and the obstreperous Owen (Owen O’Gorman) for beer and pizza. Gathered around a kitchen island, celebrations give way to a memorial for their recently deceased friend Gonzo Gerry. Their trip down memory lane a playful reminder that all have struggled with relationships, all remember their glorious past lovingly, and all are lying to themselves. Noonan relying on the old device of alcohol and wacky tobacky to allow men drop their inhibitions and talk openly. Confessional dominos falling once the first one topples, revealing pains and secrets endured. Four men who’ve known each other all their lives who never really knew each other.

Asked by several survivors to help tell their story, Noonan reluctantly agreed, mindful of the huge responsibility that comes with giving voice to the stories of others. Never sensationalist, never didactic, Noonan knows she can’t cover it all. The responsibility of the State, the impossibility of punishment for abusers long dead, how to find closure are all wisely only touched upon. Instead, Noonan pulls back the veil of shame and secrecy. Revealing masculine bluster preventing men from talking. From admitting how their experiences might have ruined them sexually. Ruined them as husbands, or fathers. How suicide can seem attractive when your soul bursts with a pain that can’t be spoken, undone and or made go away. For you can’t deal with the wound until you first acknowledge it. The Island offering just that; a first, unsteady step. Culminating in a powerful image of a man singing Latin with a single candle, revealing all he couldn’t say. The play's natural ending undermined by a tagged on, well intentioned epilogue. In which a know-all, annoyingly self-righteous son Finn (Ruairi Nicholl) tries to offer easy resolution only to sound false and contrived. For The Island speaks to tragedy. Tragic heroes have a tragic flaw. In this case it is their silence that dooms them. Pretending it never happened a lie. Pretending they can handle it, that it will all be magically better also a lie. Just ask Gerry. One thing’s for sure, catharsis begins with speaking.

Refreshingly minimal in staging, The Island relies solely on its cast, its director, and its cue perfect lighting technician Michelle Barry to stop your breath. Director Seamus Moran doing a terrific job keeping this runaway rollercoaster on the rails and on track. A superb ensemble of Donelan, Lowry, Murray and O’Gorman highlighting the power-plays, the frailties, bravado and genuine courage of boys playing at being men remembering when they were boys. O’Gorman’s monologue outstandingly moving in an already outstanding ensemble. Then there’s Noonan, who’ll likely point at those whose stories she shared as the real stars. They are, but they were blessed to find her. Noonan addressing unspeakable horror with humour, compassion, humility and insight in a brave, bold, and often breathtaking production.

The Island by Tina Noonan, runs at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum till June 21 before transferring to Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, June 25 -27.

For more information see respective venues.

1 Comment

Jun 20

This is an excellent play as it opens the door to what is the tradegy .The at the heart of the establishment of Ireland the rugby schools.The rugby schools have remained silent and covered up horrific child abuse over decades which destroyed children many dead and others occupy top positions in law business medicine and politics and remain silent.

This play has received no arts funding RTE coverage or mainstream media coverage.

The carnage left behind from the rugby schools lives on as they cheer on the rugby players who violently assault one another.

Rest in peace all the children who are dead as a result of attending the rugby schools.

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