Modern Ireland, ya’know?

Play: Shining City by Conor McPherson

Group: Cornmill Theatre Company, Co. Leitrim

Open section

After opening sentiments from festival secretary James Warnock and Seamus McNabb of Omagh District Council’s arts and culture sub-committee, the audience settled down for the opening play of the festival on Friday night.

The opening moments of a play, never mind the opening play of  a festival always suffers from a few moments of discomfort in my opinion, until the players and audience settle into the task at hand. The fact that Shining City opens to such discomfort anyway with a middle-aged man entering the upstairs office of a therapist for the first time only escalates the cathartic uneasiness of the audience. This perhaps made the opening scene difficult with broken sentences and stuttered interaction as patient John, on the cusp of breakdown struggles to explain to inexperienced therapist Ian why he is there. You can only feel that this is the very point McPherson wants to stress throughout the play, broken communication, characters struggle to say what they really mean.

John’s wife has died recently in horrific circumstances and he has twice experienced her ghostly presence in their cul-des-sac suburban home, which he abandons for a B&B. He gradually finds solace on Ian’s couch as he recounts his story.

The two therapy scenes between John and Ian are broken by an emotional encounter between Ian and fiance Neasa, in which we understand the context of Ian’s character much better after he has largely spent the opening scene listening to John. Ian has recently left the priesthood and no longer wants to remain with Nesa, the mother of his young child.

The themes of the play are very much those of modern Ireland or modern Dublin rather. Ian is breaking away from the Catholic Church, struggling to find an identity, John is in mid-life crisis, suffering the bereavement of his wife and lamenting a loveless middle-class marriage that bore no children. Nesa is a lonely young mother who sleeps with another man and is abandoned by Ian, who is struggling to admit to his homosexuality, expressed quite dramatically in the scene with rent-boy Laurence, who lies at the bottom of Dublin’s social heap.

The characters bury their real feelings to the extent it becomes expressed in rash actions from seeking affairs to prostitutes in search of some sense of love. John is perhaps the only character who finds some kind of redemption. He becomes more comfortable expressing himself through his three visits to Ian that he recovers in a sense.

The continual use of the words “ya’know” to punctuate many sentences, particularly by John was a great language device. John for example recounts at length on the sofa about himself but continues to punctuate sentences “ya’know” to Ian, to enforce some sort of interaction. It is a comfort device to seek affirmation and it works well in the context.

Cornmill did well with this play, but since they’ve entered the open section they should be subject to more critical analysis than the confined companies. The two best things about their production was their excellent set and Seamus O’Rourke’s performance as John. His monologue in the second scene puts him in contention for a best performance award I reckon. It’s always difficult for the early plays come award night, as it can be ignored by a forgetful audience. Tommy Sharkey’s portrayal of the male prostitute was excellent, his inner city drawl and filthy tracksuit was truly authentic. Ronan Ward’s role was a difficult one, requiring him to often sit at length and listen, far from simple. I wasn’t overly convinced by his performance, but he did capture the basic essence of the ex-priest’s character fairly well. The final moment of the play also has to be firm favourite for the ‘best moment in theatre’ award, but I won’t spoil that for anyone who might check out this production at another festival.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on the standard of the other open section plays throughout the festival. The benchmark is set, and its a good standard at that.

3/5

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

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