Walls and Windows – Abbey Theatre – Review
23 August – 11 September 2021
Walls and Windows by Rosaleen McDonagh
Live-stream dates: 27 – 28 August
In-person: 23 – 28 August
On-demand: 29 August – 11 September
This play will hopefully be one of the last performed in the Abbey under the severe restrictions currently in place. Only 50 audience members are permitted for each performance, whereas pubs and restaurants are allowed to have much larger crowds, not to mention the massive figures attending Croke park. These restrictions need to change to allow vaccinated people to attend in greater numbers and for live performance to return to a level that gives the industry hope of survival.
The play was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre and is written by Rosaleen McDonagh, who is an activist, playwright and Irish Traveller. The plot focuses on a number of subjects close to her heart. We meet Julia and John, a married couple who are struggling to bring up their two sons in a world that is unwilling to accept them for who they are. The couple are travellers and each day is a battle against visible and invisible barriers, where getting a job or booking a hotel for a wedding is a near-impossible task. The play probes the many subtle ways racism affects their daily lives and the effect it has on their mental health.
The staging is inventive with the carcass of a caravan visible on stage at the start of the performance. This is slowly dismantled during the play, as the setting changes to hotel rooms and other locations. The back wall of the theatre is visible throughout, with images projected onto it evoking mood and emotion. The stage is dimly lit, which occasional bursts of spotlights giving a dramatic and imposing atmosphere.
It could be argued that the play is guilty of taking on too many issues, as we see homelessness, addiction, suicide, racism and a variety of other subject matters discussed but the script is well worked and has many moments of humour to keep the audience onside. The two main actors, John (John Connors) and Julia (Sorcha Fox – on the on-demand version reviewed), deliver intense and powerful performances. John (Connors) is a no-nonsense man that just wants what is best for his family, even though he struggles to make the right choices. Julia (Fox) is the centre point of the piece and she is a warm and quick-witted character that is slowly dragged down by the world around her. The play will hopefully achieve its goal of making the audience pause to consider the lives of those on halting sites around Ireland and to resist the casual racism that makes their lives so complex.
Charlene / Ensemble: Hazel Clifford
John: John Connors
Julia: Sorcha Fox (performance 1 and on-demand)
Julia: Sarah Morris (performances 2 – 6 and live-stream)
Nancy / Ensemble: Hilda Fay
Jimmy the Garda / Ensemble: Mark Fitzgerald
Hotel Manager / Garda / Ensemble: Ruairí Heading
Kayleigh / Ensemble: Ericka Roe
Deirdre / Aga / Ensemble: Nyree Yergainharsian
Writer: Rosaleen McDonagh
Director: Jason Byrne
Set Designer and Video Designer: Joanna Parker
Video Designer: Dick Straker
Lighting Designer: Paul Keogan
Costume Designer: Catherine Fay
Sound Designer: George Brennan
Hair and Make Up: Caroline McCurdy
Assistant Director: Holly Griffith
Dramaturg: Louise Stephens
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth