Writer: Ciarda Tobin. Director: Marie Boylan. Cast: Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan. Stage Manager: Gerr Meaney. Lighting Design: Dave O’Brien. Sound Design: Andre McGovern
Limerick hasn’t hosted a Siege since the 17th century, so it was fitting then that the opener to the 2012 Unfringed Festival was titled as such. Swinging wildly between comedy and tragedy, this Trojan War-inspired drama set in modern Limerick was a real mixed bag. There were strong performances and production elements but Siege also an Achilles heel in a few areas.
The play—which ran from October 16 to 18—has a strong local flavour with the writer, director, and the cast all from Limerick. It is set on a housing estate where the gangster, Mouse, makes all the rules. He has a big drug deal in the works and when his girlfriend, Helena, and her daughter, Whitney, uncover his secret he unleashes a fiery rage, which threatens to consume them and all they hold dear. The play is narrated by missing person, Pa, who is Helena’s ex and one of Mouse’s former allies.
The 50 minute play moved at a fast pace as Pa oversaw a grim tale of love, crime, violence and betrayal—both in flashbacks and in real time. His frantic speeches gave an idea of how cheap life is on the estate; petty theft and the constant threat of violence are met with indifference (disinterest even) and if you ‘rat’, you get punished.
I felt at times that injecting pace came at the expense of fleshing out the plot and character development. The build-up to conclusion was suspenseful although the abrupt ending left the audience confused. There is a problem when they don’t realise when the play is over. For me, it seemed rushed.
Ciarda Tobin is deft in the frenetic monologues and in incorporating elements from the Greek myth i.e. the drugs hidden in a live horse’s stomach. She avoids sticking too rigidly to it because as Senator David Norris learned in his doomed presidential campaign: comparisons with ancient Greece don’t always work out. The problems we have in certain areas of Limerick are many and complex. I wonder if the production was trying to cover too much ground or say too much in under an hour?
There was also a heavy dose of comedy. The mood was often lightened with things like Whitney’s childish antics and the bitchy pub/karaoke scenes. There were plenty of one-liners, colloquialisms and local references to raise a laugh from the audience. But the funny elements risked trivialising the overall tone. Don’t get me wrong; it was good material (albeit a little reliant on stereotypes and clichés). I don’t know if it would translate fully to non-locals either.
It was slightly jarring to have so much comedy in the context i.e. there was a very eloquent note from the playwright on the programme. It explained that she wrote it “because I met a mother who barricaded herself and her two children into their house every night and prayed that they would wake up…the city is not at war so why talk about it? When one side is afraid to speak and the other is afraid to notice what is left?” That’s a powerful idea…and arguably a different play! But the spirit in which Siege was written is immediate and relevant.
Now, before local theatre practitioners queue up to lynch me, I have to add that Siege had many positives. The performances from Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan were strong. Crowe was particularly impressive, playing the helpless Pa and a child. Whitney was one of the most vivid characters. Murray did well as a vulnerable but determined Helena and Ryan excelled in the comedy scenes. Gangster, Mouse, is the gaping absence among the many voices in the play but I can understand why he wasn’t included. A maniac can easily become a parody.
The auditorium seats were re-arranged so the audience sat in a circle level with the stage and there was no set—only props in the form of boxes, which the cast moved about as required. This fluidity worked really well and the acting was up close and personal. The use of multimedia elements was creative. Projected video images to locate scenes and using sound effects i.e. a police scanner to further the plot was also clever. The lighting and sound design were good.
I enjoyed Siege and it had flashes of brilliance but I felt there was something missing that stopped it reaching its full potential. All of the commissions I’ve seen for the festival have been impressive. Last year’s, Her Name Was Pamela Mooney by Naomi O’Kelly, was endearing and visually punchy. But neither that nor Siege topped the wow factor of Louise Lowe’s Memory Deleted in the 2010 Unfringed Festival.
The Unfringed Festival has another week to go and the details are at www.belltable.ie