Writer: Janet Behan
Director: Jessica Higgs
Reviewer: Jon Wainwright
Diedre is excitedand in trepidation. She’s finally written a story for her creative writing class. In the first part of this double bill, we are that class, not knowing what to expect now Diedre’s broken her silence, but soon drawn in as this otherwise unprepossessing woman unpacks her secret history. As she apologises for mixing up her pronouns (“I” instead of “she”, “me” instead of “her”) and confesses that she’s never told anyone this story before, it’s comically apparent that this is her story. Still, she resolutely sticks to the made-up name of her hometown (Ballybumpf), the kind of small Irish community where everyone knows everyone elseand proudly relates how her eldest brother was born premature, weighing in at 9 pounds 4 ounces. Within a few minutes, and with nothing but her considerable storytelling craft, Janet Behan has the audience laughing at the sheer size of this Irish baby. We’ve warmed to Diedre, and are already on her side.
We’re also in some trepidation ourselves, about when the story will take a turn for the worst. Secrets tend to be long buried for good reason. Sure enough, she recounts how the father of this large Irish family fell foul of a business deal cooked up in the local pub: “Before you know it, the farm is gone, and we’re homeless.” This is delivered as if it’s a cursory detail, and in a sense it is incidental to the emotional scarring that’s to follow. When her brother Paul, the favourite child, dies, her mother tells her she wished it was her in the coffin.
Once upon a time in Ireland, the religious had unfettered access to children, and they had many ways and means of inveigling the vulnerable. Now an adolescent, Diedre forms a “pash” on a particularly beautiful nun, and resolves to join the order, without of course properly understanding what spending the next 10 years in the closed order of the Poor Clares really means, or realising she won’t be sharing a dorm with her crush. It turns out that the beautiful nun is a clever lure, travelling from school to school leaving a sticky trail of hormonal crushes in her wake, like a sacred slug decked out as a shiny bauble. (It’s like using Cara Delevingne in a movie poster for a film in which the model has very little screen time.)
In the second part of this double bill, Noreen is wonderfully gobby from the get-go. It’s not clear exactly what her neighbours have done to deserve such vitriol but, like voyeurs, we can’t help but enjoy eavesdropping. “You lazy wee skite, I’ll put manners on you. The gleam on the tap would have taken your eye out!” Behan’s writing is as sharp as her acting, and with a few images she conjures up the moment in time that has shaped this character’s whole life. In the boat, Noreen ends up lying on her back, listening to the lapping water all around her, expecting now she will be married. What she isn’t thinking about is how the nuns are soon going to become a big part of her life. All sweetness and light when in public, behind closed doors “granite was putty compared to them.”
These are the stories of two Irish women who are old enough to remember a world that is an alien land to anyone born in the age of the internet, anyone who has grown up with the kind of headlines unthinkable in a previous age. With a running time of 40 minutes, here are brief glimpses into two lives we can only hope are history, but a history worth keeping alive.
Runs until 27 August 2016 | Image: Contributed