Citizens’ Theatre, Tue 26 Feb–Sat 8 Mar
Few oral traditions could be as vital in a modern day society as that of Ireland. Storytelling is part of its culture, and, if the work of such writers as Conor MacPherson and Tom Murphy are anything to judge by, very much part of its theatre. In Murphy’s 1986 piece, a storyteller, an old lady keeping an ancient tradition alive through an ailing body and weakened mind is at the centre of dramatic action.
In it, two granddaughters, survivors of a family haunted by tragedy tend to the old woman’s needs, as she repeats the story of a laughing competition held in their remote village many years before. But, as actress Muireann Kelly, here appearing in this new production from the Arches points out, this is no simple family tale. ‘It’s quite funny at times but also very dark,’ she says. ‘The two granddaughters are driven to distraction, it’s about that pressure cooker of living with this woman. It’s quite brutal – the West of Ireland can be very stark in terms of emotion. They can be quite harsh with the old lady, as you can tend to lose patience with someone in that situation.’
It was, she observes, a piece that spoke to its time: ‘It was set in the 80s, a very significant time for Ireland with the abortion referendum and the Kerry baby case. So it’s significant that the play is about three women. It was a very hard time to be a young woman in Ireland, and I should know, I was growing up at that time. You just had to open the paper – there was the case of a girl of 15 found dead on a grave with her baby. There was a sense that you couldn’t trust the garda or the authorities.’ Yet she maintains that the piece is still relevant today, adding, ‘It really is a fantastic piece of writing. I’ve never yet finished it without crying. It could be set in any number of isolated places in this country.’