Three Things That Are Never Seen – The Space, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Charlotte O’Reilly

Before the show starts, talented musician James Ireland quietly plays melancholy Irish tunes over the sound of keening seabirds. It’s an atmospheric setting for this hour-long show which aims to recreate the magical time of Samhain, ‘when the veil between the two worlds lifts,’ as the publicity notes tell us.

When Charlotte O’Reilly enters from a side door without fanfare, her two-tone top misleadingly suggests a hi-vis vest. Is she one of the front-of-house crew, come to deliver some message about health and safety? What O’Reilly does, in fact, is introduce the piece in her own voice, artlessly telling us about her recurring dreams of a magpie and of an ideal lover and willing us to love her show. This feels like a misstep. The drama, if it’s going to work, has to do so on its own terms. As it is, her explanation has an awkward whiff of self-indulgence, of a project that is overly personal, rather than a well-grounded show of professional detachment.

Ireland, the musician, is for the best part a silent, strangely compelling figure. He’s incredibly tall, stalking the stage in black, sometimes carrying the mysterious feathered bird puppet, sometimes embodying it – or is he an ancient god? His silence definitely works in his favour.

O’Reilly on the other hand begins by awkwardly shifting registers. Sometimes she’s a modern lass, speaking colloquially, sometimes she’s the Storyteller, using the ‘Nine-and-fifty-swans’ mode of olden-times speak. Mostly she’s the latter. Her habit of breaking the fourth wall, and eagerly making eye contact with us also feels awkward. Sometimes she executes strange, not fully effective, dance movements. She invokes various Celtic names, but doesn’t stop to explain them. But the heart of the piece is storytelling. O’Reilly’s chosen stories all seem to revolve around an idealised pair of young lovers, their luminous affection winning the hearts of all those around them. By the third iteration of much the same story, more cynical audience members might start wishing for something a bit more acerbic, some of the darkness and death of many Celtic tales.

It’s an ambitious project to try to recreate a magical Celtic world of shape-shifting figures. As it stands, Three Things That Are Never Seen doesn’t quite come together.

Runs until 2 September 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

The earth never moves

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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