Tender Mercies – The New Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Emma Devlin

Writer: Colette Cullen

Director: Caroline Fitzgerald

Colette Cullen’s Tender Mercies is a surprisingly affecting play. The stage in the New Theatre is a cluttered space for this production, and Sorcha Furlong as Mary Fortune takes to it in a flannel shirt over tracksuit bottoms, telling stories from the salon. Her accent is familiar and the jokes bleed blue in their colloquialisms. From such beginnings it’s hard to imagine that by the end you might find yourself holding back tears, but you the chances are high that you will be.

Cullen’s hour long one hander is a journey through Mary’s life; a relatively quiet existence haunted by an early absence of love. The writing is rich with character and the shifts in tone are well handled in the text, expertly melding dark humour with even darker truths. Despite the brief length of the play against the length of a fifty year long life Mary is a fully rounded person laid bare for the audience to meet and understand. The set is perfect in its disarray, it will be recognisable to anyone who has suffered through a low period with the day to day detritus of life left wherever it has fallen and the feeling of dust and grime in the air.

Writing and set design as good as they are, the star of the show is inarguably Furlong, and not because she’s the only one on the stage. It’s a phenomenal performance. In the lighter moments she displays a great range of personalities in the salon regulars and her physicality and facial expressions are a joy to watch, you may find yourself leaning forward in the seat to see them better. But it’s the steady descent into true despair that will keep you thinking about this play long after its end, she opens up a yawning empty loneliness, a desire for love that could swallow you up, and then the lights go dark.

Inspired by a story in the newspaper about the body of a woman who had been dead for a year being discovered in her flat only due to a bank enquiry relating to a debt, Tender Mercies is a stellar endorsement for art that examines the unseen lives around us. Mary Fortune is not alone in the world, she has a family and friends and uses support services, but she is alone in her life, and she exists all around us. It’s a chilling truth that is captured exquisitely in this play. It’s a short run so catch it while you can.

Runs Until 27th April 2024.

The Review's Hub Score

Heart aching humour

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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