Writer: Deirdre Kinahan
Director: Marc Atkinson Borrull
Behind a curtain and up a few steps at the back of the Bookseller Café, Glass Mask Theatre’s permanent venue since 2021 is one of the most effortlessly atmospheric places to see a play in Dublin. Banquets line the walls on both sides, with more tables on the platform that is only occasionally used as a stage for the actors in Deirdre Kinahan’s Tempesta. Instead, Stephanie Dufresne and Jack Mullarkey spend most of their time on, beside, or at either end of the narrow counter that runs most of the length of the room. The rest of the stage is reserved for musician Steve Wickham, who introduces and concludes this play set, variously, in Ireland, Spain, and Germany of the 1930s, with the Romeo and Juliet-style love story the backdrop to the national and international horrors of the decade.
Dufresne and Mullarkey are an electric pair, their chemistry intense from the beginning. Dufresne plays Ellie, a young Jewish woman whose family will not allow her to fall in love with a Gentile; Mullarkey is Louie, a Socialist activist and later soldier in Spain. Kinahan reserves her best writing for Ellie, gripped simultaneously as she is by familial obligation, lust, and fear. Louie, though, often resembles George Orwell’s idealised Italian soldier, the “flower of the European working class [in whose] fierce, pathetic, innocent face, the complex side-issues of the war seem to fade away”. The standout moment is when Ellie is embraced from behind by Louie, while telling the story of her mother’s escape from Odessa decades previously.
Wickham changes between bodhrán, guitar, and violin, reflecting the multiple cultures involved, and the choice is always perfect, allowing the actors to slip between time and place with only a handful of small props. Despite facing other audience members directly, at no point is one’s attention distracted from the powerful human story being told.
It may or may not be a criticism to say that this is not the way to learn a huge amount about the Spanish Civil War; this reviewer has read just Orwell on the topic, yet was not further enlightened. However, for a story of two young people caught in a terrifying and tragic situation, it is hard to match.
Runs until 28th October 2023.