A Bucket Full of Fire

Sheer Tantrum presents 'A Bucket Full of Fire' by Darren Donohue.

Sheer Tantrum presents 'A Bucket Full of Fire' by Darren Donohue.

"Day comes on a little more; night holds out a little less, a little more, a little less, a little more, a little less..." says Hag (Sinead O’Brien), a withered old crone standing sentinel at a decaying old well. So Darren Donohue’s fever dream of a play begins, itself careening a little more and a little less between seeming states of frenzy and contemplative consciousness. The action, such as it is, unfolds in a theatrical nowhere and no-when, shared by Hag’s mysterious well and a double bed stuffed with two grime-encrusted men: the tightly-wound Maude (Simon Toal) and the magnanimous Blic (John Morton). Echoing Beckettian double-acts like Clov and Hamm or Didi and Gogo, Blic and Maude (the one sporting a dishevelled suit, the other donning a crusty nightcap) battle desperately against insomnia and the intrusive presence of Hag, arguing pointedly with her in biting, telegraphic exchanges. The established triad is disrupted by the sudden arrival of The Accused (Paul Travers), an arrogant representative of some unnamed officialdom who proudly proclaims that he has arrived to be put on trial for an indeterminate crime. This new relational dynamic is established only to then be immediately overthrown by the arrival of new figures (such as Grace Barry’s nameless Girl, who tends to Vincent Browning’s near-naked invalid) or the sudden lurching of a locked hamper, the living contents of which can only be guessed at.


What exactly these characters want, and what has driven them to occupy this unfixed space and torment one another is never made entirely clear. Only basic, immediate tasks drive the action, like Blic and Maude comically switching places over and over in bed to find more comfortable positions, or Hag attempting to draw a bucket from the seemingly infinite depths of the well. The characters themselves come across primarily as ciphers lacking a determinate autonomy. Not that this is necessarily a problem. Studied psychological realism is hardly the aim here. Rather, it appears that what is being presented are the embodied visions of an insomniac slipping in and out of sleep, ensnared by the crazed logic of a dreamscape.

Buoyed by Donohue’s sharp and rhythmic dialogue, this disparate collection of grotesques combines to generate the buildup of a pervasive, unnamable anxiety that lurks right on the edge of the unconscious. And thanks to the play’s brevity and barrelling pace, we’re never overloaded with pompous, metaphysical treatises or the empty philosophising on the nature of dreams or the unconscious. The madcap nature of the world and its inhabitants is enough to get the point across.

Donohue’s text is aided by Vincent A. O’Reilly’s steady direction, which never allows his performers to wallow too long in moments of wistful reflection or lose control when the pace picks up. Overall the performances are solid, with each actor showing admirable restraint in keeping their characters from tipping over into pure buffoonery. Colm Ivers' lighting transitions ably from one state of this bewildering dreamscape to another, although some actors’ faces seem to be unintentionally lost to the shadows at times. Hugh Glynn’s stark set makes good use of Smock Alley’s Boys' School venue, its stacked mezzanines and towering stonewalls themselves suggesting the depths of a massive well. The combined result is an enjoyable evening of theatre that, like any discomfiting dreamtime vision, leaves indelible traces as you enter back into the real world.

Jesse Weaver

  • Review
  • Theatre

A Bucket Full of Fire by Darren Donohue

12 - 24 November, 2012

Produced by Sheer Tantrum
In Smock Alley Boys' School

Directed by Vincent A. O'Reilly

Lighting: Colm Ivers

Set: Hugh Glynn

With: Grace Barry, Vincent Browning, John Morton, Sinead O’Brien, Simon Toal and Paul Travers