Writer: Carmel Winters
Director: Carmel Winters
Reviewer: Rachel Rafferty
Dealing with controversial issues on stage can be risky, both because of their serious nature and the difficulty in depicting a taboo subject with sensitivity and clarity. Yet Witness, written and directed by the much-talented Carmel Winters, and loosely based on her award-winning and debut film Snap manages to do just that.
Shannon O’Shea, a high-spirited, young, working class woman who has problems with alcohol, and her 15-year-old son Stephen-both rôles performed with powerful believability by one actress, Kate Stanley Brennan-are the narrators in this touching piece. Moving across an appropriately simple stage as she interpreted the characters, the actress’s performance integrated a few key stage objects, a ladder, a child-size toy train, and a toddler’s jumper that served as signals for different places, or other characters.
Shannon is dressed in the trainers and tracksuit standard uninform of the Dublin prôletariat. She puffs on her roll-ups, and addresses the audience with impassioned attention, telling her story. Deriding neighbours, do-gooder social workers, and so called friends; she laments the way the authorities have made a judgment about an alleged and shocking incident concerning her son. From her son’s perspective we hear a different version of events. Stephen’s coarse, street-wise Dublinese, argot is peppered with expletives, and rough defensiveness. He tells his story, a chronology of events that jumps back and forth in time. Yet, his mother’s narrative is often at odds with his. Thus, through alternative voices, we experience the darkly painful recent occurrences, of this mother and son, as well the longer, story of the sad history that led to them. This is gritty realism at its most raw. For all the awful nature of the subject matter the performance compels from start to finish.
Winters’ competent direction was clear, as Stanley Brennan moved seamlessly from one rôle to another with effortless skill in a performance that was nothing short of spellbinding. She inhabited both characters so authentically, from body language to every nuance of accent, and with attention to detail to every gesture, that she captivated completely as she led us through this stark and often painful journey. Her portrayal of Stephen, for example was rounded and so poignantly realistic, it showed that underlying this young boy’s tough exterior there was a heart-rending woundedness.
Witness takes a sympathetic approach to some very contentious and dark issues. Yet as a performance this work is as gripping, as it is both tender and thought provoking!
Photo courtesy of the Civic Theatre. Runs till 28th February