Theatre review: Eternal Youth (Cáca Dána Theatre Company)

Niamh Ryan's writing 'is just as good as that of the much-vaunted Kate Tempest'

Dennis Haugh and Niamh Ryan.

Dennis Haugh and Niamh Ryan.

BRIGHT YOUNG things Cáca Dána Theatre Company, formed in Galway just last year, were in the Town Hall Studio recently with their second production; Niamh Ryan’s hugely impressive Eternal Youth.

The play featured Ryan and Dennis Haugh as close friends Ashley and Darren who have recently completed their Leaving Cert and are facing the transition to independent adult life. Ashley is preparing to go to college but Darren’s hopes of joining her there are dashed by his poor exam results, a setback which accelerates his spiral into depression.

This in turn strains his relationship with Ashley who tries to help him but to no avail. The play vividly portrays the pain and pathos of their contrasting fortunes and fraying friendship - Ashley is spreading her wings, buoyed by hope, while Darren withdraws inward, consumed by despair.

In the hands of a less skilful and sensitive writer, the subject of teen depression could be clichéd or mawkish but Ryan never falls into those traps. Her keen insight and imaginative empathy for both characters make Eternal Youth emotionally compelling and fully rounded from start to finish. Darren and Ashley undergo or share moments of tenderness, anger, pain, confusion, closeness, playfulness, desire and regret, all of which are rendered with complete authenticity.

Even more impressive is the poetic and metaphoric richness of the script. Daringly, the entire play is composed in rhyming verse which could easily have been a recipe for disaster, but the sustained flow and assurance of Ryan’s language keeps the play verbally buoyant with hardly any clunkiness. In this regard, Eternal Youth reminded me of Kate Tempest’s Wasted, staged recently by NoRopes, which was also largely written in verse. To my mind, Ryan’s writing was just as good as that of the much-vaunted Tempest.

Caca Dana

A key plot element in Eternal Youth is Ashley and Darren’s shared passion for Peter Pan and the way in which Ryan deftly wove motifs and references from JM Barrie’s story throughout the play imbued it with real depth and substance.

While there were times when Dennis Haugh was a bit too forceful in portraying Darren’s inner turmoil, he was very convincing in conveying the range of emotions feeding into that turmoil and his vulnerability was keenly affecting. Niamh Ryan was also entirely believable and nuanced as Ashley, as her bright youthful hopes for life are tempered by the darkness of seeing Darren unravel.

Ryan’s script was well served in Cáca Dána’s inventive, energetic production, finely directed and designed by Daniel Cronin, with costume and lighting by Marie Hegarty. Bravo to all involved in this excellent production and I think Irish theatre will be hearing much more from Niamh Ryan in the years ahead.

Eternal Youth has been invited to New York this summer and Cáca Dána have set up an online funding page to help raise the money needed for the trip. This is a play fully deserving of support; full details at www.gofundme.com/eternal-youth-new-york-premiere

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