Breathless – Smock Alley – Review


Breathless By Joseph Kearney February 3rd to 15th 8pm

Review by Joseph Kearney

John McKenna has created a four woman piece. A man has stepped inside the minds of four women and breathed life into the stories of their death. Like a post mortem ‘Sex and the City’ set in a no where bog or empty lifeless place, a waiting station between the recent living past and the eternal uncertain future. We meet four women at various stages of life or, as is the case, death and from varying social and financial backgrounds; the wise, pragmatic culchie, the kind but somewhat moronic bourgeois teacher, an innocently sweet teenager and the brutal hatchet nurse. All were murdered: all do not know why they have been thrust together. With time and care they each reveal their autobiography, their most important memories, the tale of their demise and the people they have left behind.

The setting for this performance is magical; I adore the Boys School and feel any piece performed here owes kudos to the very romance of the building. Somehow this play settles in and conjoins with the red brick walls, the circling cat walks, the church like seating, we are witnessing women passing through the ether to heaven or purgatory or whatever theology you prescribe to. The Catholic school setting helps to make you really believe you are attending a funeral or requiem mass.

The writing is intoxicating, each story unfurls with rhythmic timing, pace and pathos. Donna Patrice plays a ballsy and bitter nurse who was dealt a rotten hand in life and has brought the hatred and anger with her to the other side, she tears through other characters naming the teenager ‘angel arse’, attacking the teacher for being privileged and only just about managing to show some kindness to the wise culchie to form an alliance. Her sharp wit, million mile an hour rhetoric and New York hot shot lawyer style investigative conversation makes for a stage dominating performance for much of the play. Despite her aggression she is the first character we fall hopelessly in love with. She is so real, a country girl who lived for the local disco up in the tennis club, we flash back to her past and learn the road she followed to become super bitch.

McKenna is trying to give a voice to the voiceless and is re-awakening the stories of woman long lost, the disappeared, the forgotten. How many women disappear each year, how many families are left not knowing? Reeling, keening, and despairing? This play tries to claw back some of the lost or departed women’s respect and integrity. Attempting to explore the ways they lived and died and to offer a sense of ending if not to the living families perhaps to the wandering souls. Willomena of the wisp can cease the worldly wandering and sleep. Despite the serious content and focus on death and dying this play is hilarious. The female observations on life, sex, the, meaning of everything made me laugh obnoxiously and slap my thigh. The revelations of their murders, the regrets from life and the things they can no longer touch brought a painful lump to my throat.

Tickets information at Smock Alley web site.

The Boys School Smock Alley Tickets 12\15

Breathless Photos by Anita Kulon

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