Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bottom Dog, 'The Bachelor of Kilkish': Living on the Fringe

Myles Breen's play confronts the lack of acknowledgement of homosexuality in small town Ireland.

Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick
Jun 11-13

My review of The Bachelor of Kilkish by Myles Breen coming up just as soon as I start on candy floss and work my way up to the waltzers ...

There's a barbershop in the fictional town Kilkish where the local men have had their hair styled the same way since their Communion. The tides seem slow to turn in this seaside town, where every summer depends on the tourist trade, attracting visitors with its annual Colleen of Kilkish pageant. 

When Ian (Stephen Tadgh), an out and proud gay man from Limerick, starts to cut hair in the barbershop, arriving like a wrecking ball (and doing a pretty impressive lip sync to it too) he clears a path for the locals to acknowledge his homosexuality. "You must think I'm very old-fashioned" says his boss Eugene (Brendan Conroy), the eternal bachelor of Kilkish, envy glinting in his eye.

For their stake in the Limerick City of Culture, Bottom Dog deliver company playwright Myles Breen's follow-up to the 2009 Language Unbecoming a Lady - a one-man show about a 50-year-old drag artist. Breen is a convincing realist - you'd buy every line spoken in this small town - and knows the comical in ordinary speech. "I'm Aggie the spinster" says Deirdre Monaghan's shrewd emporium owner, "and she's Jacinta the slapper", gesturing to competent co-star Clare Monnelly. 

Gerry Lombard's expansive barbershop set projects a naturalist scene. Tadgh's turn as the more stylised and camp Ian doesn't break the illusion, a credit to the actor's control. Dialling back his delivery, he gently tells the story of a regular customer who routinely got his hair cut in order to visit his wife's grave. It catches the audience completely off guard.

Eugene is at the heart of the play, and Brendan Conroy's performance is wonderful as he purls and squints confused at his openly gay employee, his voice a sweet murmur. Eugene is well spirited but Conroy is sure to show constant caution; the bachelor of Kilkish has feared all his life of being revealed to the town as being gay. Not that Ian is oblivious, as he reveals to him one evening while closing the shop. It's a gorgeous scene measured by director Liam O'Brien. 
Not only is Eugene contending with an Irish culture of conservatism. Conroy, quivering as if a pair of razor-sharp scissors were looming over his own head, is subtly detailing an inner struggle for acceptance. 

Most intuitive in Bottom Dog's affecting production is how it confronts an Irish community with revelations that aren't newly discovered but still have gone unacknowledged. With unspoken wrongdoings from the past in strong focus at the moment, Breen's play is another plea for that visibility which feels sadly absent. 

What did everybody else think?

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