Nun’s Island Theatre, Galway Theatre Festival
My review of Siobhán Donnellan’s two one-act plays Chasing Butterflies and In the Garden coming up just as soon as I look like my grandmother ...
Nothing violates our abilities for rationality more than the indiscriminate occasion of death, a truth gently rendered in Siobhán Donnellan’s Chasing Butterflies, the first half of Dragonfly and Bluepatch’s Galway Theatre Festival duet.
As Annie Caryford recalls the image of Mary becoming a young woman, wearing a red dress and a golden necklace, we see the pride in her eyes with which she cherishes her daughter. Big Story Hannigan fondly remembers how his son left jars in the garden in hope of capturing the butterflies. These are the memories each parent has chosen to remember their children by after a tragic night when one child killed the other.
Donnellan’s play gives powerful glimpses into this unconceivable pain, effectively conveyed by tender and devastating performances by Martin Maguire and Donnellan herself. Director Aoife Connolly surrounds the monologues with a tense blustering soundscape and a choreography where simultaneous movement adds scenic urgency. We flinch with the thought that these two shattered bodies might collide in their geometric wanderings of the stage, choosing to unleash their aggression and obliterate the other. However, in aligning their accounts separate from each other, with no forensic exposition to reveal how the tragedy occurred, Donnellan suggests that both children, whether alive or not, are victims of an illogical ‘darkness’, and that this perspective is perhaps of the most comfort to a parent grieving the loss of a child.
If this ‘darkness’ can give way to a ‘light’, it is suggested in follow-up piece In the Garden, where the accounts of two individuals residing in some kind of Eden trickles down through a series of stage glimpses. Again, Donnellan charmingly skips down the dark path, revealing the sad lives lived by these unconventional individuals, and in the presentation of their shared lack of human connection suggests a companionship that is possible beyond death. Donnellan and Ben Mulhern deserve mentions for their quirky but human performances, along with Connolly’s risky decision to stage the play as a series of stills, inciting an audience to deconstruct events without compromising the momentum of the narrative.
From Dragonfly and Bluepatch’s double-bill we are left with stories bittersweet and universal. Donnellan’s might as a writer lies in her articulation of the dalliances of temporary lives, some to be celebrated and others not, and the devastating result of when such life is snatched away. Connolly continues to be a stand-out director at Galway Theatre Festival, spelling out performance spaces where nuances are to be cherry-picked, deconstructed, and re-rendered in the spectator’s own theatre experience. Their collaboration suggests that the circumstances by which meaningful connections are made can be just as confound as the occasion of death itself.
What did everybody else think?