DYSTOPIAS, ISOLATION, characters on the edge are just some of the recurrent themes that announce themselves in Eoghan O’Tuairisc’s Fornocht do Chonaic/Naked I Saw You at An Taibhdhearc, Enda Walsh’s Arlington [a love story] in Leisureland, and Druid’s new staging of Waiting for Godot.
Fornocht do Chonaic centres on a dishevelled, tramp-like, sculptor called Pearse (Micheál Ó Dubhghaill ) living in a dingy beach-side caravan and haunted both by his culpability in the death of a child and his youthful infatuation with the Pearse of 1916.
Gráinne Bleasdale’s art teacher Barbara arrives to coax him out of his seething angst and accept a commission to make a sculpture of Padraig Pearse. Pearse (the sculptor’s ) initial response is to launch a flailing invective against the bourgeois, philistine attitudes of the local burghers, and in an Ireland where the government has been downgrading arts funding in the past few years, his tirade is all too resonant.
Ire vented, Pearse accepts the commission but this entails confronting the demons that have long tormented both him and Ireland; the play was written against the backdrop of the Northern Irish Troubles and broods on the violent legacy of 1916. Sean Cathal Ó Coileáin’s fine video projections depict both the isolated coastal setting of the play’s location and the turbulent historical backdrop to its concerns.
Dara McGee’s set of rock and sand is so authentic one almost expects a seagull to arrive at any moment. Directed by Eoin Mac Diarmada, Ó Dubhghaill, Bleasdale, and Doireann Ní Fhoighil, as a child spirit figure, all turn in fine performances, but the play is ultimately too much of an angst-fuelled polemic; O’Tuairisc doesn’t liberate his ideas beyond the realm of the essay to be able to take flight in theatrical terms.
Liberation, or the lack of it, is also to the fore in Arlington [A Love Story], written and directed by Enda Walsh. Charlie Murphy plays Isla, a young woman confined in a waiting room in a tower and compelled to relate stories through a microphone to a listening supervisor (Hugh O’Conor ) who sits amid banks of monitoring equipment on the other side of the wall.
The world beyond the walls is a dystopian cityscape of further towers from which Isla has spied people jumping. Half way through the play O’Conor’s character somehow assists Isla to escape into a verdant forest and, in her place, he is hurled into the waiting room, bloody-faced, where he is grilled by the voice of Olwen Fouére.
Arlington gives us familiar Walsh concerns like confinement and the urge/necessity of stories yet is a bleaker drama than previous plays like Misterman or Ballyturk; the comedy that shot through those is largely absent this time out. He also tilts more into wordless physical theatre than before, as in Oona Doherty’s fierce dance sequence.
Walsh marshals a powerful theatrical arsenal of sound and vision in the production; Jamie Vartan’s set, Teho Teardo’s score, blasts of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Ramones, and Jack Phelan’s video design which projects images onto the back wall of the set and at one point seems to make the whole building shudder.
At times, though, one is left puzzling over what exactly is happening or precisely how the story all fits together. That said, Charlie Murphy is terrific as Isla, combining lithe physicality and energy with brimming emotional vitality, and O’Conor also impresses as the nameless Young Man.
Entering the Mick Lally Theatre for Druid’s Waiting for Godot made me recall seeing Lally himself play Pozzo in Druid’s 1987 staging. Beckett depicts the all the suffering and ragged humanity that animate the plays of both O’Tuairisc and Walsh but with so much more poetic force and economy – and comedy.
Francis O’Connor’s set presents a fissured, mud-cracked floor and a solitary smooth stone like a giant pebble set beside the obligatory stark tree. Marty Rea as Estragon, lean as a pencil in his frayed pinstriped coat, and the shorter Aaron Monaghan as the perpetually unremembering and perplexed Vladimir are a wonderful double act as they pass their waiting time with bickering, puzzling, falling out, and making up, and muddling through the conundrum of life.
Rory Nolan is also terrific as the blustering, needy Pozzo, with Garret Lombard as the woebegone lackey, Lucky. Lucky’s verbal fusillade of a monologue has its special chime of Druid resonance as well, containing the phrase "a skull in Connemara" which Martin McDonagh took for the title of his play. Garry Hynes directs her cast with all her usual assurance in a production that hits all the right notes.