Writer: John McCann
Director: Patrick J O’Reilly
Reviewer: Colm G Doran
‘Any idea what this one’s about?’
‘Haven’t a clue.’
‘Famla…Famm-lah…Doesn’t give much away does it?!’
A couple queuing up to see Tinderbox’s latest piece show some confusion over what they are about to witness. As we enter the space and take in Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive towering structures of rotted wood that appear to have warped conveniently into a proscenium, we are all in the dark (pun intended) as to what we’re about to see. What unfolds is a haunting piece by John McCann that touches on the themes of; ‘home’, ‘the past’, ‘the outside’ and of course the ‘famla’ – which we are soon informed means ‘family’ – if you’re from the Antrim countryside.
The opening scene shows Harpo (played by Tara Lynne O’Neill) ferociously digging for something within the remains of a derelict house. Every so often commenting on the so far futile attempt; ‘not digging for no fucking dog’ – as she throws a bone uncaringly over her shoulder. O’Neill creates a forceful presence for the character of Harpo from the outset; she is thunderous yet swift in her movements and her train of thought is on a high-speed all directions line with no stops to be seen. Her relentless search and her obsession with those outside invading her rotting sanctuary or knowing why she is there in the first place is never far from the surface.
Hector, (played by Hayley McQuillan) is a local girl who is so ‘invisible’ to everyone in her life that she prefers to enter into the chaos and danger that Harpo’s house brings. She brings Harpo ‘messages’ from the local Spar, with each visit wanting to know more, to stay longer, to be more involved in her life. Their jarring names and tumultuous relationship filled with seemingly inane repetition is reminiscent of Hamm and Clov from Beckett’s Endgame – both entirely co-dependent in order to survive, or in Hector’s case to be seen and treated like a human being. Botley is the final character of the three hander; played by Rhodri Lewis, he is the larger than life first cousin of Harpo, who reminisces about the great happiness that the house once held while eating chicken at regular intervals. As the play progresses it becomes clear what Harpo is searching for, why Botley has returned and why Hector wants to be a part of this absurd family drama.
McCann’s writing is honest and fizzing with personality. He is as skilled at comedy as he is in more heartfelt moments. However a fundamental flaw with his writing here is the extent of the ‘culshie’ dialect it is steeped in. It serves its purpose well to transport the audience to a remote country village in which to tell this story entrenched in shame by the perceived parochial mindset, and then it proceeds to make the audience feel like tourists – even if they understand the words, the accent is so fast paced that much is unintelligible. By the second half more of the language becomes clearer, but it is difficult to know whether this is down to the benefit of straining for an hour to hear what’s being said, or whether the language truly becomes less dense as the pace and emotions of the piece intensify.
Despite some of the language getting lost in translation, the performances from all three actors are uniformly of an extremely high standard; each one commits fully to their role, being unafraid and daring with their choices under the skill of Tinderbox’s artistic director Patrick J O’Reilly. Whether it’s the obsessive behaviours and pregnant silences of Harpo, the gregarious gestures of Botley or the sheer willingness to please of Hector – these characters and the environment they share is thoughtfully imagined, stretched, and magnified to create a haunting and comedic drama that sustains audience engagement.
Runs until 25 March 2017 | Image: Contributed