Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best of Irish Theatre 2010 #3: Abbey Theatre, ‘Christ Deliver Us!’

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Feb 16 - Mar 13

“There’s always something in the world that’s stronger than us”

This is the truth that Winnie Butler has come to accept. The young girl’s frustration, and that of the rest of the young inquisitors of Christ Deliver Us!, is the real emotional tug of this piece of theatre. The truth is: they’ve all been defeated.

Thomas Kilroy has impressed in the past with his ability to illuminate what is relevant to contemporary cultural discourse, and it is impossible not to view Christ Deliver Us! in light of the Ryan and Murphy reports. However, this piece is not a comment on that controversy. Instead, focus on the beautiful rumination at work as Kilroy expertly taps into the consciousness of mid-twentieth century Ireland that has replaced communication with prayer. These curious youngsters find that they can’t approach any mature bodies – parent or priest – that will appropriately divulge the truth about sexual maturity to them. Instead, they are told to go to confession. When Mossy Lannigan (the fantastic Laurence Kinlan) confesses to Michael (equally impressive Aaron Monaghan) that he is ashamed about his sexual curiosity, his friend responds: “That’s not priests. It’s something else entirely”. The taboos on sexual discourse may be enforced by the pontifical figures in this play, but the curiosity itself is natural. And so the question beating at the heart of the play is this: what is it to truly be pure in mind and body?

Kilroy blends the humour and drama rather eloquently. These teenagers share a wit and social discrimination obviously formed by the influence of their parents. At one point, Monica (Caoilfhionn Dunne) describes Michael Grainger: “He walks like a disciple outta the Bible but he’s still a swank”. Kilroy walks a fine line between the different tones. One scene has the college boys being forced to dance in pairs. A clumsy waltz is played up for farce. As the boys then jostle their way offstage, two remain and commit to a stunning series of gracefully-choreographed movements, climaxing in a kiss. It is one of the most tender moments of the year in Irish theatre. As Patrick Lonergan of Irish Theatre Magazine describes it in his year round-up, it is “an unsolved mystery at the heart of the play”. 

Movement in this play is a delight to witness as director Wayne Jordan shows an impressive ability to control and contain the movements of several characters at once (some even playing hurling!) without it seeming chaotic. Even the scene-changes are vibrant. 

When Mrs Butler refuses to tell her daughter about the arrangements for her future, Winnie (Aoife Duffin, wonderfully mesmerising) yells: “Because it’s me! It’s me in the middle of it all! I have to know everything!”. This is the tragedy of Christ Deliver Us!: the price placed on a young generation suffering from a lack of identification whilst the older generation look on in ignorance. This is an evening of theatre that entertains as well as startles in its questionings of whether salvation lies in staying true to faith or to self.

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