Landmark Productions from Ireland is premièring two productions online for this year's Edinburgh Festivals: Enda Walsh's Medicine in the International Festival and this play from Deirdre Kinahan through Assembly's Showcatcher online platform for the Fringe.
Unlike some online offerings, this hasn't been recreated as a film but is clearly a filmed stage performance, apparently recorded as live, although we do not see or hear any audience until the applause at the end.
It opens with Máire Sullivan (Marie Mullen), a white-haired lady of a certain age—or 'old wun' as she would say—sat up in bed grinning and smoking on her birthday. She is a widow, but she has just spent the night with Martin, a man—younger, we assume—she met at church who is as devoted to Jesus as she is; although she hopes Jesus was looking away from what they were up to the night before. Sex to her was always about the mechanics, "a means to an end," but last night was different.
Martin is supposedly downstairs getting coffee, but he is gone long enough for Máire to chat with Jesus, as we overhear, about her marriage to Colm, going to America, having children, wondering whey they ever came back, then back further to when she was sent to Stanhope Street School when her mother died and her father went to work in England, but instead of getting an education she was made to work in the horrific Magdalene laundries.
The play is a monologue until almost halfway through, and then it isn't Martin who appears but her son Mel (Brian Gleeson) with a birthday present; Martin appears to have disappeared. Mel has some shocking information about Martin's past that she doesn't want to hear, instead attacking her son for not wanting her to be happy, his lack of religious belief and his sexuality. Mel, in return, shatters her picture of his ideal childhood, saying, "I want to know who you are when you come out from behind your Jesus."
This is a powerful drama that touches on strong issues of family and religion, amongst others, lightened with some nice touches of humour and two strong performances, plus detailed direction from Louise Lowe of ANU. It may be different if I was sitting in a theatre watching it, but on screen, each section seemed just a bit too long to me: my attention was drifting towards the end of the monologue, the argument between mother and son was eventually going round in circles and the ending felt rather drawn out.
However it's still worth 80 minutes (not 70 as listed) of your time for a strong piece of theatre writing, well performed, that can still work pretty well on a small screen.
Reviewer: David Chadderton