Cracked Eggs by Scarlet Exchange

Scarlet Exchange is a newly established collective of playwrights who graduated from the Fishamble playwriting course last year. Cracked Eggs is a showcase of six short plays that emerged in the intervening period. Under Tracy Ryan’s direction, the 15 minute long pieces are simply staged in rapid, and often dizzying, succession.

First up, Helen Ryan’s Project Dating takes as its subject the phenomenon of Internet dating. Kelly (Christine O’Donovan) snuggles up on a couch with her Mac as she talks us through some of her adventures, checking messages as she goes. As she recalls her list of oddballs, Conor O’Riordan comes alive to embody some of the rejects on stage. The writing is bright and breezy, and O’Donovan does a good job to animate the material, although the presence of another body on stage disrupts the confessional flow.

Parting Glass by Padraig Denihan follows. Here, Dolores (Brenda Larby) speaks to husband Ray (Neil Hogan) across a table. From the get-go it’s high drama, with Dolores asking the man why he left her, if he ever loved her and how the children will cope. It emerges that Ray has committed suicide, and what we are witnessing is Dolores’ imagined conversation with her husband. But suicide, unlike dating, isn’t one of those things you can rush though, and Denihan’s text races headlong into Dolores’ graphically recounting the image of her husband’s body hanging, screaming and crying as she goes. If this was 'Fair City', it might work, but it’s too much too soon in the small New Theatre space. The whole experience is ultimately uncomfortable viewing.

Dressing for Lilacs is a monologue performed by writer Christiane O’Mahony, who plays the character Annabelle. For most of the performance, she rummages through boxes of clothes, searching for the right outfit to wear to meet the family of her ex, Joseph. As she dresses and undresses, she recalls how they met, and fell in love. A diabetic and a dairy intolerant seemed an unlikely combination at first, we are told. Switching the tone, it emerges that Joseph has actually been knocked down in London, and Annabelle is going to his funeral. While another dramatic death is hard to take, this play manages to stay light (although perhaps too lightly written) and is delivered with a certain charm by O’Mahony.

Act Two opens with another death, or rather builds up to it. In Robert Barrett’s Strife, Geoff (Benjamin Musgrave) is preparing to kill himself, but is suddenly distracted by neighbour Patsy (Conor O’Riordan). After a lengthy game of cat and mouse, this rather cartoonish piece ends with Geoff shooting Patsy by accident.

What Goes on Tour by Tracy Ryan pulls us back from the edge. Another monologue, this time delivered by party girl Aoife (Aoibheann McCaul). The performance begins when Aoife goes on her hen night in Manchester, where she hooks up with an Ashley Cole lookalike. Nine months later, she gives birth to one, much to her husband’s shock. The writing is fun in parts, and McCaul’s comic performance does well do keep it entertaining.

Jonathan Duignan’s Scumbag and Dinnerhead drew the night to a close, although it was perhaps the weakest of the work. At the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Mark Dinnerhead (Benjamin Musgrave) is preparing to pick up a prize, although Scumbag (Neil Hogan) and Rapper (Matthew Kelly) try to derail the evening. And yes, Rapper raps, but without metre, rhyme or even reason. But one the worst rhyming retorts is saved for an exchange between Scumbag and business woman Suz the Flooze (Irene Lawlor). “New York’s full of queers,” he quips as she is leaves the stage, to which she replies “But it’s also the home of De Beers.” Cringe.

One of the greatest problems with this showcase is that it was just that – a staging of six unrelated and largely underdeveloped pieces of writing. Nothing felt like a complete play, or even something that might be expanded at a later stage. Rather, what we are given is an evening of stand alone scenes. That three of these included dramatic deaths pointed to a difficulty in actually writing a short play, where not everything can be packed into a quarter of an hour, often requiring a greater subtlety of expression and a careful distillation of action. Further, as a programme of writing, there is nothing in particular that binds the work together, apart from the fact that the material is ostensibly new and the writers met while doing the Fishamble writing course – a fact exploited in the promotional material. Also six plays is way too many for one night, and it does a disservice to everyone involved, including the audience. That writers and actors come together to produce this work is valid and possibly valuable practice, which may lead to interesting work in the future. But as it stands, most of the writing feels very amateur - and you can't imagine where a company solely devoted to this kind of showcasing could go - to the extent that it raises questions about why such a recently established group would want to have their work critiqued as professional at all.

See Fintan Walsh's blog entry: When should critics reserve judgement?

Fintan Walsh is a Government of Ireland Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Drama Studies at Trinity College Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Cracked Eggs by Scarlet Exchange

27 - 31 October, 2009

Produced by Scarlet Exchange
In The New Theatre, Dublin

Directed by Tracy Ryan

Lighting Design: Dan O’Mahony

Costumes: Sheilagh Tighe

With: Neil Hogan, Matthew Kelly, Brenda Larby, Irene Lawlor, Aoibheann McCaul, Benjamin Musgrave, Christine O’Donovan, Christiane O’Mahony and Conor O’Riordan.