Dublin Theatre Festival: Have I No Mouth

Brokentalkers' 'Have I No Mouth' as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2012

Brokentalkers' 'Have I No Mouth' as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2012

We can teach our children the ‘Safe Cross Code’ until they know it word for word.  We can tell them never to get into a car with a stranger, and not to accept sweets from people they do not know, even if those people happen to be disguised as their Mammy and Daddy.  But there are several things in life we simply cannot protect our children from, however hard we try.  Death- that ever so unthinkable, unpredictable and inescapable threat -is one of them. 

The seemingly invincible presence of a child’s parents and siblings can be, for the unfortunate few, the kind of invariable constant that is prematurely swiped from their little lives in as much as a blink of an eye.  For Feidlim’s mother Ann, (the kind of Mammy you just yearn to hug and never let go) the death of her third son Seán, just fifteen hours after his birth, was an inconceivable tragedy, but having to explain that she had ‘lost the baby’ to his seven-year-old brother Feidlim, was equally shattering.  Like any other child of seven, Feidlim believed that what is lost might be found.  Today, through this play, it seems he is still searching, and it breaks hearts to be a part of it.

The space is scattered with apparently accidental objects: a cabinet containing an assortment of spray-top glass bottles, a large blue table, two cans of Guinness, an orange retro telephone, a scalpel, a glass, and a small cardboard box.  The spray-top bottles, we soon learn, are the apparatus of Ann’s practice of Aura-Soma, a philosophy that promotes healing and emotional fulfilment through the therapeutic use of colour and fragrance. What is even more refreshing than the aroma of an Aura-Soma spray at the opening of the piece is the complete lack of acting in it.  There is no screen of pretence between the audience and the three people before us.  They are what they are and this is the real story.  Ann is mother to Feidlim and his two brothers (both of which ‘count’, despite his school teacher’s callous assumption), who married a much taller man, drives a Ford Fiesta and never says the word “fuck”.   She knows everything, as mothers do; she knows when her son is upset, that he has nice dreams, that he read a book on body-language once, and she just doesn’t believe that he doesn’t believe in God.  She moves about the stage among the objects with delicacy, elegance and slight trepidation, and is clearly appeased whenever her son’s steadfast hand finds her shoulder. 

Erich is equally charming in his initial role as himself, a Dublin-based psychotherapist treating Feidlim and Ann.  At first he addresses us directly, speaking softly and calmly, as therapists do, into a hand-held microphone.  He tells us how to sit, how to breathe, and how to blow all the anger out of our bodies into balloons attached to the underside of our chairs. We don’t pop, as Erich demonstrates with the scalpel on Feidlim’s balloon.  That is not the healthy way of releasing, he explains.  Instead, we slowly leave go of our angry air by stretching the balloon’s mouthpiece to the toe-curling screech of the sound of anger management in long-held discordant unison.  With all the giddy anger in the Cube finally deflated to a mere faint ring in the ear, the play begins. 

The objects around the stage begin to take shape as we are effortlessly transported from one moment to the next across the span of forty or fifty odd years: From Ann’s first date to the Savoy cinema with her late husband Seán, Christmas Day with pints of Guinness on the table and silly paper hats, to that night in January when the snow was falling and the nurse came to tell Ann that her new baby was gone, to the telephone call on the orange phone that Feidlim received at 12 noon in 2001 to be told that his father had died.

Yes this is a play about death, but it’s about other things too.  It’s a about family life, getting a new back garden, good dreams and bad dreams, broken promises and unanswered questions (we all, for example, wish we knew why there is all that space to the left in each of the photographs taken by Feidlim’s father).

Brokentalkers have yet again produced a raw, poignant, and deeply moving piece of excruciatingly honest storytelling, delivered here with simplicity and poise.

Jennifer Lee holds an MPhil in Theatre and Performance and is currently completing her PhD thesis.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Dublin Theatre Festival: Have I No Mouth by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan

Sept-28-30; Oct 4-6

Produced by Brokentalkers
In Project Arts Centre

Co-Directors: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
Video Design: Kilian Waters
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Sound Design: Jack Cawley

Feidlim Cannon
Ann Cannon
Erich Keller