Writer: Deirdre Kinahan
Director: Jim Culleton
Reviewer: Megan W. Minogue
In the post-show discussion, playwright Deirdre Kinahan described her latest play, Spinning, as being about an ‘old fashioned Irish man living in a contemporary world.’ Conor (Karl Shiels) is the man at the centre of the play, and his character’s descent, spinning out of control after one impulse decision, is an intense and necessary commentary on the shifting nature of Irish society in the two decades since the legalization of divorce.
The play centres on a conversation between Conor and Susan (Fiona Bell), who has lost her daughter Annie (Caitriona Ennis) in a tragic accident for which Conor is at fault. Recently released from prison after serving his sentence for the crime, Conor aims to reconcile with Susan and fully explain the nature of that fatal week’s events. As we jump between the past and present, we meet Susan’s 17 year old daughter Annie, who is eager to escape the humdrum seaside village in which she lives, and Conor’s wife Jen (Janet Moran), who also has ambitious dreams for her future. As Jen and Conor’s relationship comes to a rocky end, Conor begins to slowly disintegrate, feeling betrayed at every turn. Divorce is still a relatively new legal concept in Ireland, and there is a lack of equality in the legal system when it comes to parenting: as a result, Conor loses his home, custody of his daughter, and eventually his sanity. Annie becomes unintentional collateral damage, and both families’ lives are turned upside down.
All four performances are nuanced, deliberate, and compelling. Both Bell and Shiels are incredibly adept at switching between their past and present selves without missing a beat, and it is easy to sympathize equally with these oppositional characters. Ennis and Moran are also strong, and match Shiels’ outstanding performance in their scenes with the leading man. The script is well-paced, and the time seems to fly by with the audience on their seats for most of the performance. Though director Culleton describes Spinning as a ‘realist play’, he was adamant in not having a realist set. Instead, set designer Sabine Dargent has given us a beautifully evocative and simplistic set: black, reflective surfaces are edged with moss and remnants of the sea, and the two levels tilt unevenly to allow for a sense of precariousness.
Kinahan asks several questions that we are forced to grapple with: how does one man go from A to B, and how does something as positive as familial love turn so quickly into an impulse towards family annihilation? Kinahan points out how, although there was much debate leading up to the divorce referendum, that conversation stopped with the legalization of divorce. Though the legalization of divorce is undoubtedly positive in many respects, the lack of dialogue around separation and divorce has left many broken and uncertain, as Conor’s descent demonstrates.
There are several sides to every story, and Spinning gives us four narratives leading up to Annie’s tragic death. With an intense and perfectly-timed script, which the four actors execute almost flawlessly, Spinning is a must-see performance that is incredibly relevant to our nation and society.
Photo courtesy of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Runs until 12th October 2014