True Pirates Never Die – Smock Alley – Review by P McGovern
26 Jun – 1 Jul | 7:30pm | Main Space
The Gaiety School of Acting’s graduate show at Smock Alley has all the strengths and weaknesses that might be expected of such a performance. There is energy and exuberance (both a strength and a weakness in this case) and there is talent, raw in some cases but unmistakable nonetheless. It is too long – far too long – but this is probably unavoidable given the need to give every cast member a fair share of the running time and showcase their talent.
The plot is a story of pirates, their conflicts with rival pirates and drifter pirates and islanders – who are kind of pirates too. At the centre of the pirates’ exploits is the quest for a mysterious treasure chest but one containing wealth way beyond gold and diamonds. No, this one also has a chalice with magical powers of eternal youth, a magic that turns out to be a two-edged sword. It’s a long and complicated quest for the holy grail. Think Parsifal on XTC.
A programme note explains that the show is about people risking everything to acquire powers they can only imagine and draws a parallel between that and the venture on which these young actors are about to embark. However, any such message gets lost in a series of endless, repetitive clashes of swashbuckling, feuding pirate factions. Lots of swashing. Much buckling. The dialogue is pitched between Cornish cartoon (“we be pirates… he be gone that way…”) and corny Irish (“well lads… now lads … ah lads… bejaysus… ah well fuck this…”). Indeed if all the “fucks, fucking, fucked, shite and lads” were cut from Lee Coffey’s script, the show could have dropped a good 20 minutes and lost nothing. The pirates be loud. Very loud. It be hard at times to differentiate between characters as the actors take up each other’s pitch and volume. Such problems are probably inherent in an end-of-year project with all the tension, tiredness and stress that go with it. Through all of this, however, the shoots of future talent show themselves.
One can never attach too much significance to a single performance, especially a graduate one; a little more experience can transform an actor’s performance. The point is well made by stand-in actor Juliette Crosby, a graduate of the class of 2016, whose every appearance carries an assurance and conviction, showing just what difference a year makes. Ailbhe Cowley has a natural feel for the stage, her timing, facial expression and movement suggesting a young woman born to inhabit the stage. As her husband, Darragh Byrne completes a duo that lifts the show with every appearance. As drifters and ‘narrators’, Niall O’Brien and Róisín Rankin are another well-matched pairing. Eoghan Collins’s diction may be a bit polished for a raw islander but he has impressive presence and a fine voice to match. Jack Mullarkey commands attention throughout, never slipping out of character while Aoife Martyn, too, inhabits her role completely and is always convincing. Thomas Kane Byrne, like a fop parachuted in from a Restoration Comedy, injects life and laughs that are welcome as the clock draws into its third hour.
The technical end of the show is first class, with lighting and sound by Dara Hoban and Denis Clohessy adding greatly to the overall production. Music and movement are particularly strong, some of the smaller-scale sword fights being especially impressive, offsetting the tediously repetitive crowd scenes of pirates brandishing swords to little purpose. Director Aoife Spillane-Hinks uses every level and angle of the space to great effect, with all kinds of unexpected entrances, exits and the odd intrusion into the audience. Fine touches like the funereal-paced exits of the (many) dead, disappearing into gloomy recesses, work well. Through their collaboration and the intensity of preparation that this sort of show inevitably involves, the graduate students will have gained valuable insight that will stand to them as they step out onto the bigger, broader boards of professional theatre. They will be worth watching.
Written by Lee Coffey
Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks
Lighting Design by Dara Hoban
Set & Costume Design by Katie Davenport
Sound Design by Denis Clohessy
Juliette Crosbie (replacing Gilly O’Shea)
Thommas Kane Byrne