- Chris O'Rourke
Theatre for One
Theatre for One - Kate Gilmore in Queen of the Pyramids. Image Jed Niezgoda.
Theatre. At least one person in a space performing to at least one other person. As definitions go it’s workable enough, though you'll probably need a considerable amount of time to unpack it. Still, it also serves as a workable definition for a peepshow. The kind that dominated Times Square in the good old bad old days, or pop up in a mid 80s Madonna video. Most importantly, it's a definition that comes close to a serving as a succinct description for Landmark Theatre and Octopus Theatricals brilliant Theatre for One, which uses the peepshow format for its own theatrical gains. Delivering six monologues of five to ten minutes duration, Theatre for One makes it painfully clear why there is no substitute for live theatre.
Theatre for One might feel homegrown, but it's an Irish twist on an American import. Tony award winning designer Christine Jones, originally created and designed Theatre of One along the lines of a peepshow in 2010, setting it up in Times Square where peepshows once abounded. Even so, this is strictly an Irish affair, featuring works from Emmet Kirwan, Stacey Gregg, Marina Carr, Louise Lowe, Mark O'Rowe and Enda Walsh. A line-up featuring representatives from the literary cream of the crop; Kate Gilmore, Kathy Rose O'Brien, Sean McGinley, Úna Kavanagh, Derbhle Crotty and Peter Campion speak to the same calibre in performance, delivering superb character studies you're not ever likely to forget.
Taking place in what looks like a post-modern Tardis having crash landed in the socially distanced Abbey foyer, the audience is escorted into a small, red cushioned interior and sat facing a glass pane surrounded by mirror lights. A sliding screen obscures the far side of the room. The door closes, the room darkens, the screen slides back and so begins the first brief journey. And it's live. Exhilaratingly, refreshingly, couldn't be done any other way live. It might be tempting to think Theatre for One's one on one format lends itself to easy translation online, but the immediacy, intimacy, and importance of the performer's physical presence a few feet away is vital and inescapable. Zoom just won't cut it.
Theatre for One - Kathy Rose O'Brien in Brilliant by Stacey Gregg. Image Image Jed Niezgoda.
Due to the huge demand for tickets, it was only possible to catch Queen of the Pyramids by Emmet Kirwan, featuring Kate Gilmore, Brilliant by Stacey Gregg, featuring Mary Rose O'Brien, and Cygnum Canticum by Marina Carr, featuring Sean McGinley, all three superbly directed by Srđa Vasiljević. Of which any one is enough to blow you away and leave you screaming for more. Whether it's being enthralled by an effervescent Gilmore with her black eye, psycho-terrorist, and a need to hide what she means; or sit with a heart wrenching O'Brien as a struggling new mother recognising the hugeness in small mercies; or listening to a contemplative McGinley speaking to the recesses of the soul, the experience is unutterably powerful. Moving, intimate, visceral, the superlatives line up like people queueing for tickets. Those lucky enough to secure one will also come away with a new found, awestruck appreciation for the skill and craft of the performer. Brought television close, eyes can sear or be stained with tears. Words are conveyed by a controlled vocabulary of tone, gesture and expression that's beguiling to behold. At times the intensity can feel like who'll blink first. But you would never bet on yourself winning this game of chicken.
For those averse to text based, naturalist drama, Theatre for One's up close and confessional stylings might feel like a gimmick. One that indulges in manipulative, soft-core, emotional porn. Even if that were true, it offers so much more, being a theatrical experience bigger than sum of its stories. Theatre for One is a breath of theatrical fresh air. Not just because it's live performances provide some much needed light in the theatrical dark of recent months, but because Theatre for One is a profoundly affecting experience. Theatre has enjoyed too few wins this year. Theatre for One is a winner. And it is not to be missed under any circumstances.
Theatre for One by Landmark Productions and Octopus Theatricals, presented by The Abbey Theatre and Dublin Theatre Festival, supported by Accenture and Dublin City Council, runs at The Abbey Theatre until December 23.
One ticket admits to one play. To see multiple plays, multiple tickets will need to be booked.
For further information on Theatre for One, and on Theatre for One (and a Little One), visit The Abbey Theatre.