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  • Chris O'Rourke

Theatre For One

Theatre For One. Image uncredited


For some, entering the small red booth is like entering a Soho peepshow. For others, it's like sitting the opposite side of a confession box. Either way, entering the booth for Theatre For One is like entering a boxing ring. Full on, full frontal confrontation with a single actor directly before you who has nowhere to hide. Nor, for that matter, do you. Comprised of twelve short performances, six old and six new, performers find themselves being stretched to the limit of their craft. Telling stories which variously shadowbox, jab cautiously, swing wildly, or simply knock you flat out.

Though an American import, Theatre For One, as in its first Irish incarnation in 2019, is an all Irish affair. Its six original writers (Marina Carr, Stacey Gregg, Emmet Kirwan, Louise Lowe, Mark O’Rowe and Enda Walsh), complimented by a line-up of six new writers (Iseult Deane, Susannah Al Fraihat, Aoibhéann McCann, Joy Nesbitt, Ois O’Donoghue and Aoife Delany Reade), whose short plays were selected from a nationwide, public call-out. If, in terms of gender balance, 2024’s all female line-up looks criminally unfair, and statistically improbable, that’s in no way to detract from the work of the writers. That their mentors, the class of 2019, were clearly gender balanced only adds to the sense of wrong.

Confining this review to three performances, their diversity alone speaks to Theatre For One’s immense riches. Enda Walsh’s Cave, featuring a motionless, essentially unblinking Peter Corboy, speaks for the monster under the bed. The alien creature in the shadows living off our fear. With simple, fairytale directness, its one punch blow delivered in its bittersweet last moments speaks with powerful and stunning simplicity. In contrast, Joy Nesbitt’s devastating Dear Rosa presents short scenes like a series of jabs as a racially confused black woman tries negotiate a predominately white world. Demi Issac Ovlawe’s confidently insecure young black woman speaking to an imagined Rosa Parks, who she hopes to emulate. Asking advice about whether she should change her hair. Guilt and shame arising from the knowledge that Parks’s bus seat is still being fought for today. Nesbitt’s snappily sharp script, like Morgan Parker’s poetry, navigating the personal and political life of the modern black woman with insight and ease.

If Dear Rosa and Cave land their respective punches cleanly, Louise Lowe’s Bait sees Una Kavanagh deliver a killer blow you’re not getting up from. If you ever wondered how some women numb pain with cheap alcohol and cheaper sex, Lowe shows you why while Kavanagh makes you feel it. Her woman in a sparkly dress, having been physically, mentally and emotionally dropkicked by her boyfriend, sees fair weather sharks circling outside her flat, scenting blood. Malicious charmers offering a bottle of vodka as balm to her wounds. Knowing there is only so much a broken girl can survive in a shark tank on her own.

Of the many joys of Theatre For One, witnessing the actor in close proximity is arguably the most rewarding. Those who hide their nervousness behind their craft, or hide the fullness of their presence, and those, often more experienced, who are simply devastating. Like Una Kavanagh. Whose greatest drawback to national acclaim is that she makes anguish so vivid, so powerful and real, you suspect she’s naturally off her rocker. No one can play that hard, that deep, that compellingly, emotionally, viscerally brilliant every time. Capable of revealing in the quiver of lip a woman, ingenue, and innocent abroad who’s broken yet soul defiant all in the same instant. Kavanagh not just a force of nature, but nature itself. Watching her work up close and personal confounding you further and deepening the mystery. An utter, utter privilege. As is Theatre For One. Nothing else comes close.

Cork Midsummer Festival and Cork Opera House present Landmark Productions and Octopus Theatricals Theatre For One as part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2024.

For more information visit Cork Midsummer Festival 2024


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