Review by Dan O’Neill
The Corrib Gas Line has been one of those subjects in Irish life that has been either ignored or forgotten about by most of the domestic media. The development has scarred much of the local Mayo landscape and divided and traumatised the community. In ‘Fionnuala’, actor and writer Donal O’Kelly brings a fine and moving work to stage which considers the effects of the Shell pipeline on the psyche and welfare of the local residents. The title is the name given to the Tunnel Boring Machine but is also the mythical swan-child who confronts our anti-hero, Keogh. In addition to this, he also has a disturbing encounter that brings the dark history of Letterfrack into focus.
There is, as is to be expected from O’Kelly, an extremely strong and vibrant performance at the heart of this – an hour on stage, assuming an unlikeable character, an oily (pun intended) PR Man for Big Oil who recounts how the saga of the pipeline came to the sorry pass it is at today; how objectors were classed as nuisances, cranks and luddites. This is done through the medium of a fairy story. The stage is bare, apart from a silver metal table. O’Kelly appears in a pin stripe suit – once referred to, unfortunately not by this reviewer, as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’. O’Kelly/Keogh becomes enmeshed in a fairy mist and must tell the truth about what he has done and been a part of.
The actor/writer weaves a compelling and magical tale mixing actualité with fancy. The New Theatre has an excellent tradition of pushing the envelope with politically engaged theatre; the intimacy of the space allows for a real connection between performer and audience, a nexus that is strengthened by any really good piece of writing, such as this. The Director, Sorcha Fox, has O’Kelly on top of his game – veering between the all too human and the frightening grotesque. This is way more than a monologue – it is committed, poetic theatre that deserves a wider audience. It is also shows how art can be deeply political. Donal O’Kelly is to be commended for a fine piece of political theatre that uses art to inform, educate and, ultimately, to move the audience.