Blue Raincoat present The Poor Mouth
Irish theatre company apply eclectic style to Flan O'Brien's absurdist language
In their annual visits to Scotland, Blue Raincoat demonstrate a rare gift for combining spectacular visual theatre and the rigorous demands of a script. The Poor Mouth, the finale of their adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s trilogy of novels, sees the company apply their eclectic style to the Irishman’s absurdist language.
For director Niall Henry, the trick is to respect the text. ‘You have to be careful with Flann O’Brien to make sure you tell the story,’ he says. ‘And as soon as you have that clear, then you become freer artistically to find your own way to tell it.’ The O’Brien trilogy, adapted by writer Jocelyn Clarke, allowed Blue Raincoat to develop their distinctive identity. Ambitious, surreal but never afraid of a good yarn, they uphold the vibrant legacy – and humour – of absurdist playwrights like Ionesco and Beckett.
Indeed, last year they presented The Chairs, countering its dark message through hilarious slapstick. ‘Our background is in movement theatre,’ Henry says. Yet they bridge the gap between European theatre, which is often ensemble-led, with an Irish love of the spoken word. Although Henry observes that the trilogy offers a gentle introduction to its strange world, the project emerged from a deep respect for the writer. ‘If he had half the talent, he probably would have been twice as famous!’ Henry laughs.
The Poor Mouth, on one level, is a straightforward tale of one man, Bónapárt Ó Cúnasa and the adventures that lead him to prison. This simplicity hides a complex intention. ‘There is a very fantastic satire on Irish culture and the Irish view of their own culture, which is a very particular thing,’ Henry explains. The Poor Mouth mixes storytelling with a precise critique, much like Blue Raincoat’s own ability to fuse physical and scripted theatre to startling effect.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 30 May–Sat 1 Jun; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 5–Sat 8 Jun