A Date with Mercy

Ronan P. Byrne as Duke Karmo, Jane Mulcahy as Queen Mercy and Matthew O'Brien as Fierce in 'A Date with Mercy' by Jane Mulcahy.

Ronan P. Byrne as Duke Karmo, Jane Mulcahy as Queen Mercy and Matthew O'Brien as Fierce in 'A Date with Mercy' by Jane Mulcahy.

Jane Mulcahy’s new play for Plastic Theatre is a pseudo-Elizabethan mash-up that includes elements of The Duchess of Malfi, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet. Set in a royal court, Queen Mercy (Mulcahy) falls in love with Fierce (O’Brien), a lowly Irish thief, enraging Duke Karmo (Byrne), her rejected suitor, in the process. When Fierce falls for the Queen’s maid Weib (Jennings), she has him imprisoned in her dungeon. Meanwhile, Karmo has set in motion a plan to kill her Highness, and the action slides to an end in a blood-bath.

The production is nicely suited to the Smock Alley Boys' School space, where the court is located at the base of an encasing staircase. Action primarily shifts between the ground floor and a constructed upper level on which Queen Mercy’s throne is placed. The costuming is a mixture of period and contemporary style, and the staging unfussy, leaving it up to the performers and the text to hold our attention. Programming Björk next to Baroque in the ambient music is never quite explained by the performance itself.

Mulcahy plays the Queen in one stony note, initally to comic effect, but without variation this choice struggles to charm. Byrne does a fine job as the deranged villain Karmo, as does O’Brien as the love-lorn thief, who ducks between dialogue and direct address. When speaking to the audience, he might have whipped up more of a rapport had there been more spectators present. But in the week following the Theatre Festival, drawing an audience is a challenge, and on this night there were only nine of us present.

The Elizabethan playwrights were pretty good at being themselves. This means that a contemporary take must either be very clever or very funny. While this script is nicely constructed in a formal sense, it’s hard to see what the reworking brings to the table. It appears that it wants to be a tongue-in cheek romp, although it plays too safe for this to really happen. A number of lines strain towards humour, such as when the Queen says of Fierce “My frozen libido he strums,” and he of her “She milks me like a cow without the slightest context,” but the gag never quite delivers. By remaining too faithful to the genre, rather than boldly sending it up, the play ends up looking like a shadow of its inspiration.

While the direction is clean throughout, an effort to amplify some of the characterisations would have helped to better animate the writing. Apart from O’Brien as Karmo, the playing style is too straight and earnest. On one occasion, as Queen Mercy and Fierce eat together outdoors, the rest of the cast gather on the wings to sing an arrangement of the 'Teddy Bear’s Picnic'. More zany choices like this would have pushed the production in a much more rewarding direction.

Fintan Walsh is ITM staff writer.

  • Review
  • Theatre

A Date with Mercy by Jane Mulcahy

20 - 30 Oct, 2010

Produced by Plastic Theatre
In Smock Alley Boys' School

Directed by Andrew Deering

Lighting: Chris Lynch and Amy Flood

Costumes: Anouck Sablayrolles

With: Rónán P. Byrne, Andrew Deering, Liam Halley, Diane Jennings, Jane Mulcahy, Pádraig Murray, Matthew O’Brien and Mary Cate Smith