Saturday, July 30, 2011

15th Oak Productions, ‘Minute After Midday’: Staging ‘The Troubles’

The New Theatre, 10 Days in Dublin
Jul 15-16

My review of Minute After Midday coming up just as soon as I decide to stay at home and watch the Tyrone game ...

In 1993 Theatre Ireland magazine published Ian Hill’s ‘Staging The Troubles’ – an address the journalist/critic delivered at an international theatre conference in Poland. Hill found a disparity between a direct and an indirect method in Irish playwrights’ approaches to the reality of ‘The Troubles’. Investigations of the ethno-religious conflict routinely fell back on the indirect metaphorical use of history (Friel), parable (McGuinness) and satire (Parker) with very little direct survey of conditions as seen in The Plough and the Stars and At The Black Pig’s Dyke. A contemporary member of the latter camp, Ross Dungan’s Minute After Midday has chosen a very real catastrophe – the Omagh bombing – and his interests are solely in the good and evil of the day as opposed to what symbols they may serve.

The audience are greeted by three individuals onstage. A young girl in a pink dress stands mesmerised by a denim jacket in the shop window of Harriets. A young man lights a cigarette and speaks of the stones and hatred that were thrown at him and his family. An elderly woman sits at home awaiting her husband’s return. A car bomb is about to tear apart their lives forever.

What is initially striking is that Minute After Midday seems to be the first play to deal with the Omagh bombing (correct me if I’m wrong). 15th Oak engage the event with maturity and responsibility – a strong achievement for a creative team that seems yet to have reached their mid-twenties. The cast inhabit their characters with sweet humility. The bravest of Dungan’s tactics is to attempt to give a face to the evil of that afternoon – an earnest payoff that grips the grey complexities of an anger that is neither black or white.

Dungan’s writing holds our hands through the tragedies – sometimes a little too tight. His details are meticulous and delicious but they can crowd an audience’s engagement, leaving little room for revelations to fall. He takes time at the beginning to establish his characters’ modesty and humours but much of these defining characteristics can be absent throughout. Furthermore, the imposing of the monologue form ignores the notion of theatre as a concentration of ‘space’. Monologue plays have been widespread this summer and most of them achieved a remarkable balance between space and text. Director Emily Reilly ultimately allows her stage to submit to Dungan’s text, allowing it to drag densely as opposed to invigorating it.

Watching the play reminded me of another monologue play and recent revisit of ‘The Troubles’ – Mephisto’s production of Tara McKevitt’s Grenades (with whom Minute After Midday competed for the P.J. O’Conner radio drama award). Unlike Minute After Midday, McKevitt’s play definitely belonged to the metaphorical school of approaching ‘The Troubles’, using the sectarian presence to tear apart a young Donegal woman’s family and social identity. Mephisto succeeded in staging McKevitt’s (who showed the charm and poignancy of a young Christina Reid here) play with theatrical competency, executing the memory play with surrealist use of light and sound.

Minute After Midday has its own mission but it currently lacks a correspondence between text and stage, thus robbing the play of all its heroics.

What did everybody else think?     



    Fringe First Award 2011