Friday, September 5, 2014

Painted Bird Productions, 'Between Trees and Water': Visions of the Past

How do you find the right way to tell a story that has gone untold for 75 years? With sensitivity and discretion.

Unitarian Church, Cork
Sept 1-6

My review of Between Trees and Water coming up just as soon as I give you 10 pounds to buy a cap and stockings ...

Who was Bridie Kirk? In a different decade, her name would have been placed in the minds of everyone in Ireland.

However divisive the legality of women's reproductive rights, names like Savita Halappanavar and code-names 'X' and 'Miss Y' are placed firmly in the Irish consciousness. This was not always the case for victims in the same circumstances. Silence has long played a part in depressing the controversies of a Catholic society. It's with sensitivity and discretion that Painted Bird Productions retrieve the story of a Cork woman who died, fearful and penitent, in 1939.

Fiona McGeown's staging begins with disparate elements: horse hoofs to send us into the past, articles of evidence to paint a tragic scene. We hear witness statements and court dispositions citing a male suspect in an investigation of a woman's death. The actors deliver their affects unemotionally, running risk of becoming motionless. However, the greater goal here is retrieval and not dramatic interpretation. McGeown's dutiful arrangement of documentary materials unfolds a story, and with it a deep feeling of sadness which, within the chipped walls of the Unitarian Church, limber and sepia with Deirdre Dwyer's design, bears local resonance.

What's upheld is respect for the truth. As artifice, its emphases are gentle: the low glow of Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting, the humming of Rob Moloney's sound design. Physical vignettes are carefully choreographed so as to outline an invisible presence, observed and desperate for connection. Regard is even shown by having peripheral performers exit the room to give the floor to those most distraught: the disposition of a grieving mother, a devastated father, and a lover adrift.

Admirably, the restraint of the actors feels in service to the greater subject. You can still see that it's personal - Nicolas Kavangh, durable and committed; the discreet and convincing Shane Casey, George Hanover, whose poise is even fragile; the strongly composed Noelle O'Regan; and Róisín O'Neill, springing to her feet, evoking the youth and spirit of the young woman at the heart of the performance.

From a brown wood piano, the mournful notes of Tom Lane's music resonate, as the feeling of the whole event is to have a sense of loss catch up with you. Despite 75 years of distance, its still transferable. A thorough questioning of a medical professional reminds us of the legal inconsistencies facing doctors in recent times. Even wider, Painted Bird's dutiful production situates us in an Irish reality where, morally and legally, the scene has always been murky and grey. A woman's dying request then, "to go between trees and water", can only imagine somewhere earthly and technicoloured, where clarity is abundantly clear.

What did everyone else think?

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