Camden Fringe 2010
I doubt many have an in-depth knowledge of Irish mythology, but you probably won’t be surprised to hear that they are just as bloody and violent as some of the more classic ones of the Greek and Roman variety. In this retelling of some classic pieces of Irish mythology, the blood runs quick and fast, so it is only fitting that a bucket of blood is one of the few props in this sparse, physical and gripping retelling of the stories of Mara and Cuchulainn. This is an excellent one-woman show and a powerful production, utilising live music, simple props and exceptional central performer Emer O Connor to full effect, although it is a little short on material.
A good myth isn’t necessarily the best piece to see enacted: these are ancients stories, passed down the generations by story-tellers, and an evocative and physical telling is sometimes all the more powerful than a full-on performance thereof. This is certainly true in this retelling of Irish myths: the violence and bloodiness of the stories is more exciting and entertaining when illustrated sparsely and simply. The stories themselves are pretty classic pieces of mythology: spurned goddesses, mighty warriors, wily temptresses and battles between fathers and son, although the inimitable Irish flavour does shine through a little.
It is certainly exciting to see such varied character work all carried out by one actress. Emer O Connor, the writer and performer of the piece, dances brilliantly between goddess and temptress, always sliding comfortably back into her main role as story-teller with ease. The power of her performance lies mostly in her physicality: her character-work is made all the more enjoyable by her excellent control and poise, and there is little to fault about her performance. The production values here are also high, the simple elegance a credit to producer/director Kerry Irvine. A simple bucket, filled with blood, including rags that are dipped and wrung, is used to illustrate most of the stories, with a live cello providing the music (played beautifully by Charlie Henry); this, combined with the powerful performance, means the whole piece comes together wonderfully.
However, even though the production and performance creates a very watchable whole, it doesn’t last very long: the whole piece lasts little longer than half an hour. Unfortunately, that feels about as long as it could ever be: with this spartan, stylised performance style, a production running any longer would have started to become stale very quickly. This is one of those performances which ran at just the right length for the style and production, but it was just too short for a night of theatre: the audience clearly left wanting more. The show needed expansion: more performers, more stories, or maybe a slightly more involved setting: something to make it run a little longer and a little more fully.
It’s a shame, as everything in this show was to such a high quality: it just needed more meat to really be more than just an exceptionally well realised segment of a piece, or even theatrical exercise. Maybe three short pieces like this covering different myths from different cultures… As it stands, this is some of the best physical theatre I’ve seen in a long time, just not much of it.