Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shaun Dunne and Talking Shop Ensemble, ‘I Am A Home Bird (It’s Very Hard)’: Hometown Glory

Project Arts centre, Dublin
Apr 6-16

My review of I’m A Home Bird (It’s Very Hard) coming up just as soon as I use pearl rice in my risotto ...

Last January the Economic and Social Research Institute revealed that currently one thousand Irish people a week are immigrating to find work. It also forecast that in the coming year we should expect to lose the population equivalent of Galway city. On the front line of this exodus are the younger, “lost” generation: babies from the mid-Eighties onwards grown up and finding their opportunities spread thin. I am a member of that generation. I have people who have had no choice but to leave. I partake in late night conversations over tea and cold pizza about the shortcomings of the thirtieth Dail and the bailing out of our perfunctory banks. The unfortunate reality is that if you’re finishing school or college nowadays you have to consider leaving home to find work. That’s how it is. If Die Hard is older than you then it’s a sign that you’ve come along at a bad time.

There’s always been some need for theatre to explain our states of being. Yolland and Owen’s charting of Ballybeg in Translations always comes to mind, which stood for Eighties audiences as a source of understanding the postcolonial relationship between Ireland and England. Shaun Dunne reminds us that Gar O’Donnell’s departure in Philadelpia, Here I Come! is a more relevant mirror for these times, as he and Talking Shop Ensemble embark on the most direct disposition of the recent emigration issue on the Irish theatre scene to date.

Dunne steps out from among a scene of young theatre makers picking fights with the notion that all hope is lost He begins by informing us of the many loved ones he has lost to the lack of opportunity in Ireland.  He tells us of the places they have moved to and of the classic buzzwords they mention in Skype conversations such as “Barry’s Tea” and “the weather”. What frustrates him is the lack of definition of the length of their expeditions. This is the greatest asset of I Am A Home Bird – its ability to relate to our own experiences of missing people who are abroad; the temporariness of their stays uncertain. Dunne has Talking Shop Ensemble’s Lisa Walsh and Ellen Quinn Banville for company. Walsh sits at a computer desk, reading out reports and articles on how the departure of athletes and junior doctors will have a serious impact on the country in the future, while Banville is having her last get-together with her friends before she also leaves. The trio lounge around Ciarán O’Melia’s domestic set; a kitchen and living area designed for practical reasons but oddly sentimental. This is where young people in Ireland talk seriously about issues – over a steaming kettle and a plate of biscuits.

Dunne’s stories about his family and friends are humble at first, however, he quickly becomes irritating as he casually hurls his abandonment issues and frustrations with Irish attitudes at his audience. His performance doesn’t have enough variation, and these preachings sound all too similar before long. The philosophical notions of ‘space’ and ‘unity’ is his writing are thought-provoking but ultimately lack conviction in delivery to make them resonate. He has more charm when he acts in a social capacity but there is a lack of definition to his relationships with the girls, who seem at times to be his personal assistants more so than friends. Walsh is a much more likeable home bird, making more of an effort to win her laughs, hilariously depicting her Come Dine With Me parties and portraying Michael Flatly at the Irish team’s 2002 World Cup homecoming, which encapsulates Irish pride rather brilliantly. However, Dunne is very much so the dominant personality here, his humour intangible with the play, and our patience for him is quickly tested. This is unfortunate as his endgame is very inspiring but without sufficient momentum it falls lifelessly flat.

There is a faint resemblance to the absence we feel these days in I Am A Home Bird (It’s Very Hard) but these crucial performances are clumsily executed and ultimately annoying. I wished I was in the company of my missing friends instead.

What did everybody else think? 


  1. When we lose the population equivalent of Galway City, I wonder if it will be from Galway City - imagine that!! Deserted Sparch.

    I haven't seen this show, but, as always, really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Fair play Chris, keep it up!

  2. The thought of a desolate Spannish Arch is very sad.