Saturday, May 14, 2011

Calipo Theatre, ‘Pineapple’: Silver Spoons

Draíocht, Blanchardstown, Dublin
May 5-6

My review of the terrific Pineapple coming up just as soon as these Custard Creams stare me out of it ...

“It’s all about the experience” – Roxanna

The final act of Pineapple opens with two Ballymun teenagers talking about a young local man who has committed suicide. The man was a brother of Roxanna’s boyfriend Fitzy. Roxanna recounts to her friend how Fitzy told her that he could not imagine why his brother would want to take his own life; what places he had been inside his head. I could not imagine being inside the heads of any of these characters – it is not a world I have lived in – and it is to such effect that Philip McMahon’s portrayal of domestic life in the Ballymun flats is so tough and moving that one can find just how close or removed this universe is to their own. 

Pineapple is the story of sisters Paula and Roxanna. The latter is sixteen, drinks Bacardi Breezer and looks out for herself. The other is a single mother, lives for others, and has taken in her little sister after their parents kicked her out. Paula’s neighbours are all gradually moving out of the tower block. Her best friend Antoinette has moved all the way to the South Side but one night she visits and brings a liquored gentleman with her. Paula, after an arduous road through single-motherhood, is now the keeper of a kind man’s affections.

McMahon’s writing only dwells on socio-economic deprivation insofar as it is necessary. Subtle allusions such as Paula’s inability to calculate a basic taxi fare or Antoinette’s sheer delight at finding a fifty euro note outside Penny’s are spontaneous and effective reminders of these impoverished conditions. The real attention to detail here is on these characters, all of whom are written into ill-fated circumstance and have an outrageous way with words. The prickly surface of this play is an incredibly funny one. McMahon writes humour as testament to these characters’ wits (“You’d have a better chance of catching the Virgin at Knock”) and at times, like comical playwrights such as Martin McDonagh and Thomas Kilroy, these lines are hilarious because they are just so typical of class ignorance. Janet Moran comes to mind here as the side-splitting insensitive Antoinette, whose offensive remarks on race are just insanely amusing. (*)  It’s not all a barrel of laughs. McMahon always leaves space for his characters to employ an unexpected poetry to help them comprehend the gravity of their lives. Truly great writing.   

* I wonder if any members of the audience took offence to the race-related jokes.

Calipo have assembled quite an impressive group of individuals here, comprising of some of the finest talents in the country. The trio of Caoilfhionn Dunne (Paula), Nick Lee (Dan), and Moran (**) are pure fun to watch. Dunne is more in demand to deliver the pathos, and justifies her character’s temper by never losing sight of Paula’s concern for the well-being of her home. Lee (***) is charming as the ever simplified and noble Dan. Along with Jill Murphy (Roxanna) and Niamh Glynn (Steph), this cast are the perfect fit for McMahon’s dialogue. Director David Horan loosens the realist setting of the Ballymun flat by leaving some of the set seemingly unfinished, thus indefinite, allowing audiences to peek beyond the more obvious suggestions of squalor to a perceptivity that is much more inspiring.

** Moran is probably one of my favourite actors at the moment. I have been quite fond of her since ‘Freefall’. Doesn’t ‘Pineapple’ really show her aptitude for comedy roles?

*** Am I the only who thinks Nick Lee looks remarkably like Tadhg Murphy? The two could definitely be cast as brothers.  

I grew up on a farmland in South Kildare, and one of the rites of passage of growing up was getting the train to Dublin and learning your way around the city. There were certain “cautions” given to me in regards to meeting individuals from particular areas. I was told that such communities were known for being “rough” and “rude”, and whether or not they have earned such undesirable associations is up to debate. Ballymun particularly has been infamous for its drugs, poverty, and social problems.  I ask myself would it really be easy for me to live through such conditions and still come out cordially smiling? One scene in the play juxtaposes two conversations, one in which Roxanna talks about rearing her baby and in the other Paula talks about having more children, and you can’t help but feel emotional when you realise this reality of broken family structures. As for being ‘rude’ – there is a certain bluntness to the speech of these communities and, as McMahon shows here, this gives individuals licence to be very creative with words. Honesty is a very common disposition in Pineapple, whether appropriate or not.  You could think that they live in a different world but the themes of ‘family’ and ‘happiness’ are familiar to your own. As Paula says: “We all need something”.

With a dastardly humour and a reality that is heartbreaking, Pineapple is a fantastic play. Whatever interrelations or negations you find yourself having with this community during the course of the play, your discoveries are burdened bittersweet as you realise at the conclusion that this way of life is coming to a close. McMahon is concerned with a moment in our societal history, and his endgame is a devastating reminder of the temporality of this community’s home.

What did everybody else think?

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