Normal – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre – Review by Frank L
Written by Caitriona Daly
April 09 – 28, 2018 – Time: 1pm (doors at 12.50pm)
Photo Credit: Futoshi Sakauchi
The refurbishment of Bewleys in Grafton Street is finally complete with the re-opening of their Cafe Theatre. It is an important contributor to cultural life in the heart of the city. Its refurbished state retains its familiar feel, like an old friend. However, it has undergone a general sprucing up but with some specific improvements: an extra fire exit and a new sound proofing system which will keep the hubbub from the street and the buskers to a minimum.
Daly was in the inaugural graduating class from Lir and is a subsequent graduate of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme, London. Her first play “Test Dummy” in 2016 was nominated for Best New Writitng in The Irish Times Theatre Awards. The title of this piece Normal is cleverly ambiguous and it was first shown in the Dublin Fringe Festival 2017. It investigates familiar and not so familiar themes.
It is normal for a mother to be protective of a son no matter how apparently big and strong he may appear to be. The arrival of a girlfriend necessarily requires an adjustment in the mother and son relationship. A girlfriend’s interest in a young man may well have to contend with his relationship with his mother. All of those relationships could come within the phrase “normal”. However, Daly skews the so-called “normal” part by making the son a young man who is autistic.
The play is set in an upstairs room in a pub in which a party has taken place but with the tables and chairs all upturned so it is clear something untoward has taken place at the party. Helen (Caoimhe O’Malley) the young girl arrives on stage to start the clearing up. It transpires she organised the party for her boy friend Gary, the son of Phil (Karen Ardiff). Phil joins Caoimhe in the task of clearing up and it is clear that she is critical of Caoimhe and much else besides. Her petty prejudices run deep. There slowly develops between them a tug of war over Gary; what is best for him and how each of them relates to him. As they argue they do not listen, to an extent, to what the other is saying. This is underlined towards the end of the piece where each of them have a longish speech. Daly airs several complex issues and attitudes, not least adult mental health in this contemplative piece.
While the issues raised are substantive in the earlier part of the play, there is a comic levelling which seduces the audience to become engaged in the main issue which divides the two women; namely Gary. Gradually each of them reveals slowly and to an extent reluctantly their own concerns for him and what they have to offer to Gary which each sincerely believes is best for him. Each has a very different perspective which makes their conflict so realistic and to use the title “normal”.
This is a well crafted piece of theatre by Daly who is an emerging writer of talent. It is thoughtfully performed by Ardiff and O’Malley. In short, it is a fine choice to reopen the new Bewley’s Cafe Theatre.