Coconut Raft

Bobby McGlynn, Sean Carpio and Bryan Quinn in 'Coconut Raft'.

Bobby McGlynn, Sean Carpio and Bryan Quinn in 'Coconut Raft'.

Based on an idea by Alice Bourke, Coconut Raft precariously floats on two plot lines. The first relates to a jailbreak in 1930s Ireland by three convicts, and the second pertains to a regaling of that event, seemingly in 1950s America, through music by Gustavo des Balera and his troupe. Some of these finer details are not so easy to discern from the performance itself, but thankfully a programme note supplies some useful background information.

Over the course of fifty minutes, the two threads intermingle, although not without friction. Some of this has to do with the fact that we are presented with an awkward mixture of style and idiom that’s hard to reconcile: in one of the tales we are given a rather bleak take on convicts tunnelling underground to flee incarceration, tripping over bones as they ferret; and in the other strand the performers take on cabaret, complete with (almost) synchronized jazz hands, and a touch of the Charleston to boot. Striped prison garb and bluesy dirges force superficial parallels with O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Further to this, the real difficulty is that neither thread is especially captivating or polished, or rewarding as a theatre piece. Alternatively, as a staged pub event, it might be quite entertaining. There is no real development of concept in the dramatic content, and the theatricality is wanting. As the runaways claw through the imaginary soil, for instance, a pensive upward glance is the closest the actors come to affecting emotional nuance. Then there’s the occasional collapse into limb-flailing violence, too explosive and expansive to be credible given the otherwise implied narrow terrain.

The performers seem more comfortable with the musical numbers, especially when the up-beat tunes are replaced with moodier interludes. Carpio, a musician by trade, is the main vocalist and instrumentalist. Although awkwardly standing behind band signage for many of his renditions, he commands our interest with his nifty guitar picking and foot percussion. One can imagine him being more impressive at his own gigs. Similarly, McGlynn only grabs our attention when he sings a soothing solo. Not surprisingly, Lecoq-trained Quinn is relied upon for the physical gags.

In the programme note, the production is described as the fruit of “three unlikely collaborators.” Unfortunately, the performance struggles to conceal or build-upon this improbable alliance. That no director, designer, or theatre company is credited suggests that this was very much an experimental endeavour, perhaps even a one-off venture. Although not successful on this occasion, this spirit is hard to knock in principle.

Fintan Walsh is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin.


  • Review
  • Theatre

Coconut Raft by Bryan Quinn, Bobby McGlynn and Seán Carpio

23 March - 3 April, 2010

Produced by Bobby McGlynn, Seán Carpio & Bryan Quinn
In Project Arts Centre

Written & performed by Bobby McGlynn, Seán Carpio & Bryan Quinn.