Director: Rowan Tolley
Reviewer: Sarah Hoover
A subtle scent of burning turf greets the audience as they file in for the performance of TURF, an autobiographical performance about the men who foot turf. This is quickly followed by eerie and interesting sounds from a violin-guitar-bicycle wheel played by Rowan Tolley, setting the stage for a windy bog story.
Our introduction to Frank Farrell, and the best part of his performance, is his physicality. He crouches over piles of turf poured onto the stage floor, selecting and shifting them into a puzzle, placing each just so. His movements reflect a man happy with his patient, backbreaking labor, and patience, as he says, is rewarded. Farrell tells stories through the portrayal of men he knows on the bog, from his coworker and nemesis Jimmy to Eamon, the dainty intellectual ‘MA in environmental science.’ The best of these is Tommy, the man from whom Farrell learned the trade. Tommy seems present on Farrell’s work as though Farrell probably imitated the man while he followed Tommy’s instructions while footing turf every day in the bog. While these caricatures seem overly performed, as though they were pub stories told through interpretive dance, when Farrell returns to the footing of the turf his own experiences and values are honest and fascinating. The increasing tension as he builds a precarious turf barrel, all about “angles and positions”, is present in the delicate way he handles each chunk of turf and of text, compelling us to watch his hands and listen to his voice. Farrell barely touches on what it means to be part of this history of turf-cutting, focusing instead on individual stories. But we can see how important it is to him, feel the “gentility” of the art as both performance for us and ongoing craft and community in the Irish bogs.
Reviewed on April 29th 2016| Image: courtesy of Galway Theatre Festival