Spinning Heart – Gaiety Theatre – Review
19 September 2017 – 23 September 2017
When Donal Ryan first published ‘The Spinning Heart’ in 2012, he was an unknown writer. The novel was published by Lilliput Press, a small publisher who is known to develop new writers. Since that time, he has published three other books. The Spinning Heart was written at a time of austerity in Ireland which was hard to ignore. The bank guarantee took place in September 2008, and the bailout shortly after as Ireland left the good times behind. Now with Ireland slowing emerging from the recession this play returns to the stage to remind us of what was left behind.
The play takes place in a small town in Limerick and shows the impact of the recession on its inhabitants. They are in a variety of situations. There are builders who have been left without a job. Foreign immigrants who travelled to Ireland because of the boom and are now questioning what there is to keep them here. There are people who bought houses that promised an ideal life but have been left half-finished. There are also some elements of melodrama that add to the complexity of the story.
This production was first performed in Smock Alley in 2016. This new version has a slightly different cast from the original and a number of other small alterations, such as set changes and the use of music.
The cast is assembled from graduates of the Gaiety School of Acting and they do a remarkable job of embracing the subject matter. There is a large ensemble cast of ten actors who work through the various characters. Most of the actors take on several roles, changing between them. Killian Coyle plays the lead character and local GAA star Bobby Mahon but is more interesting as a creepy Montessori teacher at the local crèche. Shane O’Regan shows his range playing the slightly simple Timmy along with the local ladies man Seanie. The more humorous scenes are among the highlights, such as Realtin (Caoimhe Mulcahy) who keeps breaking things in her home to make sure Bobby continues to visit! Also, Brian played by Ethan Dillon, who is constantly worried about ‘getting the ride’. Triona played by Toni O’Rourke is highly impressive in the final scene, which gives a sense of closure to the piece.
The play was directed and adapated by Paul Brennan, and takes much of the text directly from the book. The chapters were written as inner monologues in the voice of the characters, so it easily converts to the stage. While the play is hugely evocative of a time in our recent history, it is also an insight into life in small-town Ireland. The various strands of the stories weave together into something greater than the sum of its parts. It is a play that has many laughs as well as more moving moments. Donal Ryan’s book is one of the most enjoyable Irish novels of recent years and this play captures its essence perfectly.