The Olive Tree – The New Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Katie O’Kelly

Director: Davey Kelleher

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

“She’s speaking to me. The olive tree …”

The Olive Tree is one of the more surprising and brilliant offerings from Dublin’s The New Theatre this year. A one woman show written and performed by Katie O’Kelly it begins, and ends, with an over worked shop assistant watching the clock tick down to the end of her shift. The Olive Tree is remarkably funny and light throughout despite the sometimes dark emotions that are evoked as history literally apparates before her. In a magical twist our narrator, who had been hoping to make the last bus before putting her feet up for the night in front of the TV, finds herself being spoken to by an olive tree. This tree takes her on a journey through Israel and Palestine and back to Dublin again. All of this is done without O’Kelly’s feet ever leaving the ground.

What ensues is a strange mix of humour and sometimes heart breaking images as the audience is taken on a journey into the conflict of the past, present and future of Israel and Palestine. This has particular relevance in a country that has seen so much fighting and separation itself. Much of the dialogue, particularly near the beginning, is in verse. The lyrical and intelligent language is delivered in O’Kelly’s strong Dublin brogue which helps to make the political personal. Eschewing the minutiae of political debate that can often occur when discussing such broad and ongoing conflicts; individual stories that one can relate to are used to bring the reality of life for many others in the theatre.

The play raises questions of what can one person do to influence the world around them. When everyone is so busy with the details of daily life the drama and misery happening every day in another country, on another continent, can seem very far away. O’Kelly makes the audience question themselves and the way in which they live. The symbol of the olive tree is very profound. It is an image that represents the bridging of peace between two groups with its seeds and roots also acting as a powerful metaphors throughout the play. Importantly to the story olive trees can also live to be hundreds of years old, witnessing the changes going on around them, and in turn bringing our narrator into the thick of life in the West Bank.

The set is kept relatively simple. Multi coloured lighting is used to emphasise changes and emotions but otherwise the story is allowed room to tell itself. A spiral of yellow and red boycott stickers take up the centre of the stage and mark the spot where O’Kelly remains for much of the performance. This perhaps also helps to reinforce the political beliefs that underwrite this project. It is a difficult thing for a performer to hold the attention of the audience without other characters or a dramatic setting to react off of and yet O’Kelly manages this.

It is an excellent example of magical realism on stage which hopefully The New Theatre will see more of in the future. As O’Kelly takes multiple curtain calls The Olive Tree is undoubtedly a success and heralds a strong and individual voice in Irish theatre.

Runs until7 May 2016 | Image: courtesy of The New Theatre

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