Writer:Ursula Rani Sarma
Director: Nelson Barre
Reviewer: Tricia O’Beirne
Two of playwright Ursula Rani Sarma’s plays, Orpheus Road (2003) and …touched… (1999), are directed by Nelson Barre as part of the #wakingthefeministswest movement’s involvement with the Galway Theatre Festival, running as a double-bill. On a completely bare stage in the Town Hall Theatre Studio, the performances rely totally on script and acting and happily deliver on both. First up is Orpheus Road, a touching tale of two young lovers, set in Northern Ireland during the time of the troubles. The two are almost literally thrown together when a bomb explodes in an art museum: Finn, a troubled kid from a violent republican background, and Emma, an immigrant from South Africa, who initially seems removed from the bigotry and bias because of her outsider status. Finn deals with the pain of experiencing constant conflict by cutting himself, carving his emotions in blood onto his skin, and Emma’s love for him pulls her into his dark world. The conflict and pain ultimately penetrate their relationship and before long Emma is embodying the violence that surrounds them, as she too begins to self-harm. This contemporary riff on the Romeo and Juliet trope is handled deftly by Barre; the production is left unpolished and this choice suits the almost monologic raw nature of the text as the focus is on the performers and the words. Martina Tierney is a sweet-natured, delicate and vulnerable Emma, while Robert Murphy Jackson’s depiction of the tortured Finn is compelling and heartfelt.
… touched… tells the story of Cora and her brother Mikey, who live in “the crotch of the country” somewhere in rural Ireland and, for various compelling reasons, need to get away from their lives there and move to Dublin. The play opens with the two literally colliding with Dublin ‘chancer’ Macca, as they flee pursuing gardaí. A violent confrontation ensues and the remainder of the play takes us back in time in order to explore how the young siblings ended up in this unfortunate situation. While there are funny moments, including Cora’s determined domination of the vulnerable Mikey and Macca’s tale of woe as he decides to snitch on the two to the gardaí, when Cora’s secret emerges the play takes on a decidedly raw and dark edge. Once again the simple staging foregrounds the performers and Rani Sarma’s script, with lighting playing a secondary role in focusing on the individuals as they tell their story. All three actors succeed in bringing their characters to life: Ophelia Mortimer is excellent as the strong-willed but damaged Cora, deftly managing the subtleties and nuances of her character, while Conor Duffy is completely believable as her hen-pecked but at times unpredictable brother. Damien Duddy’s depiction of the strutting Macca is well played for laughs while as Dr Cloughasy, Cora’s abuser, he is convincingly sinister.
This was a very enjoyable evening of theatre, organised by #wakingthefeministswest in conjunction with the Galway Theatre Festival, and acted entirely by students currently studying at the Drama and Theatre Department in NUI Galway. #wakingthefeministswest is a year-long Galway-based season of plays and performances by Irish women, inspired by the #WakingTheFeminists movement. Led by NUI Galway students and supported by the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, the programme’s mission is to stage the work of Irish women playwrights and theatre-makers as well as to provide strong roles for female performers.
Runs until 5 May 2016 | Image: courtesy of Galway Theatre Festival