Mary Murray in Deirdre Kinahan's 'Bogboy', presented at Project Arts Centre. Photo: Pat Redmond

Mary Murray in Deirdre Kinahan's 'Bogboy', presented at Project Arts Centre. Photo: Pat Redmond

There is a literate, thoughtful script at the core of Tall Tales and Solstice Arts Centre’s staged version of Bogboy, originally developed and produced for RTÉ Radio. Designed for voices communicating without eyelines or spatial blocking, delving into the sonic and emotional echoes of memory in careful, easy-to-connect blocks of dialogue linking scene to scene in the mind’s eye, it would be easy to dismiss as being all about the script, and confine critical observation to its structural and literary qualities (which are considerable).

Initially, the play invites such consideration, with its seemingly all-too formal rendering of the stage space into an abstraction of psychic space. Ciaran Bagnall’s design presents us with translucent screens suspended from the ceiling onto which both static and moving film images are projected, 'Bogboy' presented by Tall Tales. Photo: Pat Redmondbut which also serve without projection to block the space into discreet zones through which the actors move, without making eye contact or directly interacting with each other’s bodies. The impression this gives is of a clumsy stage analogue to the disembodied soundscape of audio theatre - a place for words to be heard from.

This impression fades as the production asserts its living presence through its actors. Mary Murray’s intense performance is powerful vocally, yes, and her costume is arguably perfunctory, certainly simple, but there is tremendous precision in her tight-limbed, gesturally incisive reading of Brigit. Brigit is an inner-city girl with addiction issues who, at the beginning of the play, is writing a letter that serves as our road into the flashback to her recent past working a rehab job in County Meath, where she has developed an awkward friendship with dopey local handyman Hughie Dolan (Steve Blount). Brigit is a person who has realised her mistakes but does not perceive her deeper flaws. Bristling with defensive aggression, demanding and spiky, hurting deeply, she is desperate to at least try to break her destructive pattern.

Murray captures the many nuances of a character whose surface appearance is misleadingly obvious, and the actor achieves this with an arsenal of precise physical stances, moves, and gestures. The sense of containment and constraint - the wound-up, angry and terrified girl lashing city-bred venom against everyone around her - comes with a marvellously realised sense of pain and vulnerability, which Murray conveys again with vocal nuance: switching tone and tempo with ease, but also through visible body actions that radio would not permit.

'Bogboy' presented by Tall Tales. Photo: Pat RedmondThe same is true of Steve Blount. Again the character is all radio: practically monosyllabic, frequently repeating key words spoken by the other character just to remind the brain through the ear of what’s going on - a classic straight man. Yet in the flesh Blount makes a powerfully sympathetic figure, a neatly shambolic rural everyman who may or may not understand what is being said to him, but whose seemingly gormless disconnection from the world is shown to be rooted in a dark past. Blount moves like just such a man would around someone like Brigit: carefully and minimally. He looks about him with the barely comprehending facial twitches of someone with other things on his mind that we presume must be mundane but which could, in fact, be almost anything, including complicity in political murder. He is at once funny and believable, not the caricature he first appears nor the blank wall for Brigit to bounce off that his dialogue would suggest.

Emmet Kirwan finally makes explicit the expressionistic, almost pantomime qualities of the physical characterisation here when he appears as Darren, the short-tempered father of Brigit’s little girl, appalled at being dragged into culchie-land with his daughter who should be at home being looked after by granny. Kirwan’s neck movements and limb extensions are so exaggerated as to be virtually chicken-like, and his rendering of this familiar personage is all about the character’s meaning, not about documentary.

Bogboy is clearly highly stylised, then, and the stylisation is appropriate to the aural origins of the text and yet also thematically integrated with this drama of disconnection, disassociation, and the return of the repressed when one is confronted with that which they have tried to bury (figuratively, literally). 'Bogboy' presented by Tall Tales. Photo: Pat RedmondIt is a drama about repercussions and echoes, things that ripple outwards from the moment we are actually living in. Such moments are literalised by director Jo Mangan as noted, with a strong and explicit sense of spatial separation and juxtaposition. Though it seems schematic, it actually works well, particularly when the actors are as sharp as they are here. When characters share story space, they do not necessarily share emotional or intellectual space, and we are invited to consider the distances between them and their meaning. Mangan has her actors moving very specifically in and out from behind those layers of screen, and the one time when all of them seem to be sharing the one place, the one moment, the play reaches its painful high-point of conflict, collision, and disaster. It is followed by a similarly uncluttered confrontation between Brigit and Hughie in which both have left the shelter of their screens and are revealing ugly truths to neither’s advantage nor salvation. No one finds peace here, let alone redemption. It’s a powerful piece, well realised and affecting.

Dr. Harvey O'Brien teaches at the UCD O'Kane Centre for Film Studies, University College Dublin.


  • Review
  • Theatre

Bogboy by Deirdre Kinahan

June 30 - 10 July, 2010

Produced by Tall Tales Theatre Company & Solstice Arts Centre
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Jo Mangan

Design: Ciaran Bagnall

Music: Philip Stewart

With: Mary Murray, Steve Blount, Damien Devaney, Emmet Kirwan