Writer: Tom Murphy
Director: Garry Hynes
Reviewer: Monica Insinga
The return of Druid to the Dublin Theatre Festival with two companion pieces by Tom Murphy, Brigit and Bailegangaire continues with the second pieceBailegangaire on The Olympia Theatre stage.
As soon as the play starts and the lights frame the figure of Marie Mullen’s Mommo sitting in her bed at the centre of the kitchen set, and she starts delivering her seemingly endless story, the audience becomes enthralled by her voice, face and gaze. Bailegangaire (the place without laughter) is one of the most compelling, timeless stories ever written in Irish theatre.
For the members of the audience who couldn’t witness the great Siobhan McKenna playing Mommo in the 1985 premiere, watching Mullen (who originally featured as Mary) taking on the rôle of what has become an iconic figure is a transcendental experience, wholly fulfilling any high expectations you might have going in. One could say it is the rôle of a lifetime, since Mullen has now come full circle in the same way the phenomenal Garry Hynes reaches a new level of mastery by combining the two pieces and giving us a flawless production of Murphy’s classic, thirty years after the original production—directed by Hynes herself.
True to the meaning of the play’s title, the pervading sensation that something is horribly wrong with this family is present since the first few minutes of the show, ominously anticipated by Gregory Clarke’s haunting sound score playing before the start. At first, we could easily concentrate solely on the engrossing figure of Mommo, her tragedy expressed by her continuously fragmented storytelling, and the multiple layers of history and meaning hidden underneath her speech that can be perceived through Mullen’s masterful performance.
However, credit must be given to the importance of Mommo’s granddaughters in the story, without whose presence on stage, the familial tragedy could not be grasped in its entirety. As such, credit must be given to the highly accomplished performances of Catherine Walsh as Mary and Aisling O’Sullivan as Dolly. The noticeable chemistry between Walsh and O’Sullivan greatly adds and gives further intensity to the dynamic expressed by Murphy’s script.
Due to the terrible losses suffered throughout their family history, the three women seem unable to reconcile with their past in order to move on; while for most of the play they are isolated and destructive toward one another, Mary perceives that it is only through Mommo’s storytelling that a process of healing can finally start. And in the end, despite the deep wounds inflicted upon one another, when the moment of recognition finally comes it does not feel stale or clichéd; on the contrary it is a liberating moment due to the sharp and highly accomplished performances of Walsh and O’Sullivan alongside Mullen’s feat.
Photo courtesy of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Runs until October 5th.