Home Theatre (Ireland) Our Place. Our Stories – Draíocht Arts Centre – Review by Paddy McGovern
Part of the Dublin Theatre Festival
Well away from the work of the more established playwrights and theatres, Blanchardstown’s Draiocht has been hosting a series of thirty commissioned short pieces, all inspired by people who live in Dublin 15, their stories rewritten and directed by professional theatre makers. Six different pieces are presented each night. The project is unique in that the finished pieces were first performed in the houses of the people whose life stories inspired them, before transferring to Draiocht’s auditorium where the public performances have been deservedly packing the house.
Friday night’s performances started with The Ballad of Betty Bolger, written for Betty Bolger by Marc MacLochlainn, performed by Ruth Lehane and directed by Louise Lowe. Bolger’s tale traces her life from childhood in the north inner-city through the ups and downs of family life, her relationship with her younger brother, how she assumed adult responsibilities at a young age following the death of her mother before eventually marrying a man that she loved and living a happy, fulfilled life. It is a simple story of a typical Dublin working class life of its time and Lehane and her director do not seek to embroider or impose a forced theatricality. The piece leaves one longing for a greater emphasis on the subject’s adult life, not a bad sign.
Hungry for the Win is inspired by a young Serbian woman, Milica Stankovic. Directed by Cathal Cleary, it is written and performed with great verve by Eva O’Connor, Her animated performance reflects a young girl’s passionate interests, her self-assurance and determination to excel in her chosen sport. She takes us into what family and country (“home” again) means in the immigrant experience, showing how natural it is for two countries to share your heart and your loyalty.
Two Squirrels was written for Rachel Galvin by Sorcha Fox who also performs the piece. It is a deeply moving story of one woman’s struggles with addiction. Cathal Cleary again directs, allowing the story to unfold at a beautiful pace, trusting the integrity of the piece and the sincerity of the performance to carry its weight, without the need for added pathos or manufactured emotion.
We Are Humans First is the story of Indian national, Jagan Muttumula, written by Gavin Kostick and performed by Shadaan Felfeli. It is full of personal observation, encapsulates so much of the immigrant experience, is by turn optimistic and pragmatic and has a lot to say about religion, politics and the practicalities of juggling life’s demands to hold all together. It is witty and wise, reminding us just how much our immigrants like Muttumula add to Irish life. Felfeli does full justice to the subject in a charismatic performance that instantly engages his audience. Conall Morrison directs.
‘It’ll never happen to me’ is a hilarious piece written for Sarah Kehoe, by Sharon Mannion and performed by Mannion. The piece focuses on a woman’s experience of childbirth and the mental issues that may arise afterwards. It is highly entertaining while also presenting the darker aspects of the experience. The “support group women” allow Mannion full rein for her quickfire characterisation and vocal versatility. If there is a reservation, it concerns the introduction of the second character who, though equally well conjured by Mannion, somehow distracts in the cross-cutting between the two. Liam Halligan directs.
An Audition was written for James O’Higgins Norman and performed by Fionn Foley. It is a perfect piece to conclude the show, full of energy, fun and luvvie in-jokes about the entire process and trials of auditioning for a role in theatre. However, there is also some dwelling on the more serious issue of “playing a role” (in terms of race, class, sexual identity etc.) as distinct from being one’s authentic self. Foley’s performance is flawless under Liam Halligan’s sharp direction.
Our Place, Our Story is more than an enjoyable evening; it presents a wide-angle shot of an entire community in all its rich diversity. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate use of Arts Council funding for “public” projects and deserves its support.