Solar Bones – Abbey Theatre – Review
Dates: 20 – 29 October
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes, no interval
Solar Bones tells the story of Marcus Conway, an Engineer living and working in Mayo. Marcus is an ordinary man and this production tells the story of his life. We hear of the ups and downs of his marriage, including an infidelity that almost ended things entirely. We hear of his relationship with his daughter, an aspiring artist who creates modern works Marcus can’t comprehend. We hear of his work as an Engineer, along with his brushes with the local politicians who stick their noses in where they’re not required. He’s a decent man, who tries his best but doesn’t always succeed. We meet him as he waits in his kitchen for the arrival of his wife.
Solar Bones was originally a book, written by Mike McCormack and first published in 2016. It won the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize and was longlisted for the Booker prize the following year. It has been converted for the stage by Michael West. The original production started life at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2020. The production went on to receive many plaudits at the 2021 Irish Times Theatre Awards, including a Best Actor gong for Stanley Townsend and Best Director award for Lynne Parker.
The stage by Zia Bergin-Holly gives the impression of a modern glass structure with a high ceiling, allowing the viewer to see the coastline behind. The few pieces of furniture on stage create space for Townsend to prowl the stage, as he dominates his terrain.
The production is a one-man play, with Stanley Townsend playing Marcus. He walks slowly around his kitchen, telling the story of his life to the audience. It is a play that focuses on the smaller elements in life and shows that you don’t need an epic story arc to capture the imagination of the audience. The tale is told with warmth and humour by Townsend, who gives depth and wit to Marcus. He’s a passionate man and we can feel his energy coming off the stage. It is rare for a stage production with only one cast member to last over an hour in length, but Townsend held the attention of the audience throughout.
Although this production was originally staged in 2020 with a socially distant performance, some may have seen a Stream of the work, which was released in November of the same year during the dark days of Covid lockdowns. I remember it as a highlight of a time when the world of theatre was largely dark. It was great to see this work as it was intended in front of a live audience, with those in attendance hanging on Townsend’s every word.
Marcus Conway: Stanley Townsend
Adapted by: Michael West
Director: Lynne Parker
Set & Lighting Design : Zia Bergin-Holly
Associate Lighting Designer: Suzie Cummins
Sound Design: Denis Clohessy
Costume Design: Kathy Strachan
Publicity Image: Peter Searle