Birds of Passage in the Half Light

Kat Woods
Tinderbox Theatre Company
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Birds of Passage in the Half Light

Kat Woods’s fast and furious play about Ireland’s historic abuse of women and children is lyrical, sharply witty and important. We are taken to a place where “men ravaged cocks ahoy.”

Fiona McGeown plays an unnamed contemporary woman visiting her mother and attending confession. These events trigger thoughts about her own traumatic experience.

Scenes of her angry reflections switch constantly to those of the character Mother Earth, again played by Fiona. In this role, she reveals the broad sweep of Irish history and the money-making machine of the Church that locked into forced labour prisons they called homes women who transgressed by being raped or being an unmarried mother or simply being seen flirting.

The children consigned to such places didn’t fare too well. We hear that of the 51,000 unlucky enough to find themselves in these appalling prisons, 41,000 died there. Ireland is still finding their mass graves. The excavation not long ago at the Church’s Tuam home found the remains of numerous children who had been stuffed into a sewage tank.

Mother Earth occasionally refers to the propaganda of the Church’s PR, Mr Fox, who appears as one of many animated figures created by Fergus Kelly that are projected onto a back scrim screen. Fox always has an outrageous lie ready to cover up a scandal.

Since the whole purpose of this prison system of so-called homes was the making of money, it became very profitable to start trafficking children, many of whom got sold to America.

This terrible history connects to the story of the unnamed contemporary woman’s family. And as she learns about that, she recalls her experience of sexist abuse and being raped.

The show is so fast, the switches of character so sudden and the concentrated lyrical language so intense, it is easy to miss stuff. Yet it is impossible for the audience not to pick up the broad drift of the story, the excitement of the performance and the brilliance of the language and be entertained.

The story isn't over. Ireland and the Church are still shuffling their feet hoping Mr Fox can come up with another cover story. Angrily in confession, the unnamed woman says to the priest, “I don’t need your forgiveness. You need mine.”

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna