Helen and I – Civic Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival Review


Helen and I – Civic Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival Review by Frank L.

Venue: Civic Theatre – Dates: Sept 27, 28 & 30, 8pm; Sept 29 & Oct 1, 3pm & 8pm
Tickets: €23 – €25 – Duration: 1 hr 45 mins. No interval.

Helen and I written by Meadbh McHugh

Helen (Cathy Belton) is an unmarried mother of a somewhat bolshy teenage daughter Evvy (Seána O’Hanlon). Helen’s younger sister Lynn (Rebecca O’Mara) worked in the post office but has just procured herself a new job in an unusual line of work. The play begins with the two sisters arriving at their family home where their father, long a widower, is dying. It is summer in Galway, which is enduring an atypical heat wave, so much so that a fan is needed to cool Helen. The atmosphere is almost like a Tennessee Williams’ play, with an oppressive heat despite the Irish location.

Lynn is obsessive about make-up. It is layered on thick with red lips so large she could almost be a clown. The two sisters are brittle when they find themselves alone with their father in the house. Then Lynn’s husband Tony (Paul Hickey) arrives unexpectedly which increases the tension. Eventually Evvy arrives which further ratchets up the tension.

Helen is the centrifugal force of the play but it is not so clear who is the “I” of the title. The other three individuals are each to an extent in her thrall. The writing throughout is engaging but does not identify “I”. There is much fine dialogue. A good example is a tragic comic scene when Helen, Paul and Lynn attempt to play cards… the dissonance displayed is gripping.

The stage is in the round resulting in the size of the performance space being small. Aedín Cosgrove’s set, which utilises drawers underneath the perimeter of the stage, ensures that props once no longer needed disappear out of sight. The resulting sparseness intensifies the tension. The physical needs of the father is alluded to by Lynn and Helen both arriving on stage, at different times, with a white plastic bed pan and at other times peeling off rubber gloves. McHugh displays this family without sentimentality, but there survives some bonds between the sisters, which were formed in childhood and endure notwithstanding their different lives.

McHugh is able out of dark situations to elicit laughter. O’Mara as Lynn has a part which could easily have become a stereotype. But like a great clown she keeps it within the bounds of reality. Annabelle Comyn’s direction and Meadbh McHugh’s writing have engendered in each of the characters, notwithstanding their manifest inadequacies, individuals who each need support and love which are commodities they have rarely experienced. Each is patently human in their hopes and failings. A play to be savoured.

Cast and Creative Team:

Directed by Annabelle Comyn
Cast: Cathy Belton, Rebecca O’Mara, Paul Hickey and Seána O’Hanlon
Set and Lighting Design: Aedín Cosgrove
Costume Design: Doreen McKenna
Sound Design: Philip Stewart

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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