Breathing Water

Jarlath Tivnan as Jonah in Fregoli Theatre Company's production of 'Breathing Water'.

Jarlath Tivnan as Jonah in Fregoli Theatre Company's production of 'Breathing Water'.

Kate Murray and Teresa Brennan in Fregoli Theatre Company's production of 'Breathing Water' by Raymond Scannell.

Kate Murray and Teresa Brennan in Fregoli Theatre Company's production of 'Breathing Water' by Raymond Scannell.

With its rhythmic dialogue and rapid character changes, Raymond Scannell’s award-winning first play, Breathing Water, seems like it was written for Fregoli. The experimental piece is comprised of narrative fragments and dramatic vignettes which render the story of Jonah and his mysterious fear of water.

The play begins with a lyrical, evocative speech. This, along with a subsequent focus on the everyday routines of the four central characters, works to obscure both the source and the nature of Jonah’s psychosis, mirroring the main character’s repression. Flashbacks uncover Jonah’s issues as the play progresses.

In addition to Jonah (Jarlath Tivnan), this four-hander’s other key roles include his girlfriend Sophie (Kate Murray), his best friend Comic (Aron Hegarty), and Sophie’s vacuous comrade Carrie (Teresa Brennan). Although the male characters are more fully drawn than the female roles, Murray and Brennan portrayed Sophie and Carrie with skill and confidence, while Jarlath Tivnan and Hegarty’s onstage chemistry aptly conveyed the depth of Jonah and Comic’s bond. The play also offers a variety of other personae and caricatures which allowed the cast to showcase the diversity of their talents. Hegarty in particular demonstrated great range, switching between such roles as the powerful, intimidating Brother Bernard, who taught the boys at the Christian Brothers, and a hilarious satire of a Dublin rapper.

Fregoli Theatre Company present 'Breathing Water' by Raymond Scannell.With a relatively bare set and minimal props, the attention of the viewers was steered towards the actors’ speech and movements, which were atmospherically-lit and accompanied by diverse music, ranging from electronic dance to Chopin. A simple black backdrop, dotted with silver shards, intensified the play’s shadowy and nocturnal moments. Matt Burke’s lighting played an important role, with spotlights honing the isolation of characters at appropriate times, and the ambience of an urban night evoked using mottled hues of blue, red and yellow. Strobe lighting also added to a significant scene in which the characters are out clubbing - such moments epitomised the aesthetic quality of the play and of Tivnan’s directorial vision, as the production oscillated between fast-paced energy and more cadenced, choreographed action. This reached its climax when Jonah and his friends danced to a DJ “mixing and mashing massive tunes”. In a determined effort to enjoy the night, the actors chanted in unison while their rhythmic movements expressed mounting zeal. Hence, the night club scene took on attributes of political protests or religious rites.

Fregoli performed a successful rendition of Walsh’s Disco Pigs last year, and the comparable approach with Breathing Water highlights many parallels between these two works. Like Disco Pigs, this play’s poetic dialogue amplifies the distinct musicality of the Cork accent. Using language and surrealism, both plays contribute to an artistic expression of Cork’s urban identity. It is stylised and poeticised, but instantly recognisable to those familiar with the city’s local culture.

Breathing Water has the power to sweep us away on a dreamlike journey, shifting between children’s and adult’s perspectives and moving rapidly amongst schools, churches, homes, workplaces, pubs and clubs. Fregoli’s energetic approach and Tivnan's skilled direction fulfilled the play’s potential to expose how small the difference is between these various spaces and the ritual acts that they accommodate.

Siobhán O’Gorman is currently completing a doctoral research project on gender and the canon in contemporary theatre at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Breathing Water by Raymond Scannell

14 – 18 June 2011

Produced by Fregoli Theatre Company
In Town Hall Studio

Directed by Maria Tivnan

Lighting Design: Matt Burke

Sound: Hilary Chesher, Rob McFeely

Costume and Make-up: Maria Tivnan

Set: Maria Tivnan and Cast

With: Jarlath Tivnan, Aron Hegarty, Kate Murray, Teresa Brennan