Scríbhneoir/Writer: Éilis Ní Dhuibhne
Stiúrthóirí/Directors: Anne McCabe and Marianne Kennedy
Léirmheastóir/Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy
Éilis Ní Dhuibhne’s play Dún na mBan Trí Thine/The Fairy Fort is on Fire is a great ambassador for Irish language theatre. Evidently popular with the festival audience, there has been some excitement surrounding this production during the festival. Well-deserved excitement it must be said. It’s rare for Irish language theatre to get programmed in Irish festivals, and it’s even rarer for women writers of Irish language theatre to find representation on Irish stages.
Indeed, during the production the main character Leiní, played with skill by Linda Bhreathnanch, cites a statistic that only six novels by women writers were ever written in the Irish language. This reviewer hopes that this statistic has been improved on since the play was first produced more than twenty years ago, but it’s emblematic of a double jeopardy faced by women writing in the Irish language. Women, who suffer first and foremost for being women, also suffer for writing in their native tongue.
This play is performed in Irish with subtitles available on screens in English. The effect is a little obtrusive at times, but there is just no good way of subtitling live work. At times the subtitles aren’t even necessary as the physicality of the piece speaks for itself.
Bhreathnach is wonderful in this piece. Her portrayal of the challenges of motherhood is one of the most refreshing that this reviewer has seen on the Irish stage. Leiní is receiving unsolicited advice from everyone on how to raise her children. The ghost of her mother (Máire Ní Mháille) is stuck in the well (in this case a washing machine), but she pontificates throughout from this bizarre holding. The effect is humorous and is a cheeky nod to the tradition of the myth.
Bhreathnach is a physical force on stage, careening around in a sort of mania that plays well with the play’s folkloric undertone. The women of the fairy fort echo this energy, and it’s an interesting visual for the audience. A frenzied struggle between one world and the next.
There are moments when the production could be tighter. The narrative at times can seem repetitive, but the commitment of the ensemble keeps the production’s momentum going. The set, designed by Tríona Lillis, is functional and, combined with Sean Cathal Ó Coileáin’s video design, it gives a nice depth to the performance space.
Ultimately Dún na mBan Trí Thine is an evocative piece of performance. It represents a reality rarely seen onstage. The choice by Ní Dhuibhne to marry the contemporary experience of Irish motherhood with Irish folklore amplifies the experiences of Irish women throughout time. With some further development this reviewer is confident that this production can continue to challenge audiences in our native tongue.
To quote Padraig Mac Phiarais (who gets a mention in the play) “Is tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” or to translate “a country without a language is a country without a soul.” Equally, a country without theatre in its native language, is a soulless entity indeed.
Reviewed on 21 July 2017 | Image: Contributed