Week two festival reviews

Redemption Falls, Citysong, Cleft, Runaway Princess, Agony of Karl Marx

A scene from Moonfish's Redemption Falls.

A scene from Moonfish's Redemption Falls.

MOONFISH'S REDEMPTION Falls was one of the most eagerly anticipated shows in this year’s GIAF and its staging of Joseph O’Connor’s novel abounded in musical and visual invention.

Less a play-with-music than a concert-with-theatrical-elements, it potently conjured civil war-era America with its suite of songs, several of which combined lyrics by the ensemble with traditional airs. There were arresting visual moments such as a drummer boy’s face becoming spattered with blood in the heat of battle and the harsh bowing of a fiddle to powerfully evoke a violent rape. The fragmentary nature of the storytelling meant the production occasionally lost some momentum or focus, but the strong ensemble performances (both singing and acting ), terrific score, and imaginative staging made this a highlight of this year’s programme.

Citysong arrived from the Abbey and Soho Theatre trailing great reviews. Its verse-propelled portrait of three generations of Dubliners and their home city was full of warmth and humanity. However, much of the script comprised passages of narrative description and there was a repetitive element to the rhythms of author Dylan Coburn Gray’s rhymes. Furthermore, having the entire cast bedecked in casual dark clothing made the show visually drab. An excess of narration also hampered Rough Magic’s Cleft by Fergal McElherron. Delivered as parallel monologues by Simone Kirby and Penny Layden - as twin sisters Fea and Caireen who are raising a child on a remote island - it ultimately felt more like a piece of prose or radio drama rather than an entirely satisfying stage piece.

Switching briefly to the Galway Fringe Festival, a show that really packed a punch was Mary Goggin’s Runaway Princess [pictured above] which related her life story of enduring years of drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution before finally beating her demons and finding joy. Goggin’s story was told matter of factly, neither sensational nor self-pitying, and with frequent flashes of humour.

She vividly evoked the range of characters she encountered from parents, to teachers, pushers and pimps. Her narrative voice reminded me very much of the great American writer Lucia Berlin who similarly spun the raw material of her own alcoholism and disorderly life into compelling stories. Always riveting, often funny, and ultimately deeply moving, Runaway Princess was another personal highpoint of the last fortnight.

Margaretta D’Arcy rounded up a posse of local performers for a reading of Rochelle Owen’s ‘anarcho-comic’ 1973 drama, The Agony of Karl Marx. A freewheeling look at Marx’s life it was part agitprop, part Pythonesque knockabout, and mined Marx’s domestic difficulties – constant money worries, a growing family, and his affliction by boils – all of which were preventing him from completing Das Kapital. Gerry Conneely channelled his inner Michael D Higgins for Marx’s voice and the show ended with a rousing rendition of ‘The Internationale’ (Mary Coughlan, no less, being among the chorus ). Margaretta D’Arcy’s introductory prologue was also very entertaining in itself.

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