Jo Bangles

Mary MacEvoy in David Lordan's 'Jo Bangles' at The Mill Theatre.

Mary MacEvoy in David Lordan's 'Jo Bangles' at The Mill Theatre.

David Lordan has been garnering awards as a poet (The Boy in the Ring, 2007) and this is reflected in the language of his first play, Jo Bangles. Lordan is in love with words and the sounds of words, emerging from a fuzzy soundtrack at the start into a textured and variegated verbal tapestry – visually and emotionally vivid, forceful and playfully alliterative. He revels like Patrick Kavanagh in the "ordinary plenty"; he evokes the freshness of early morning awakening, as well as the fetor of humanity – in the pub, in the bed, in the butcher’s and the baker’s. Although Lordan’s origins are in England (Derby), and his upbringing was in small-town Cork (Clonakilty) the piece is redolent with the Wales of Dylan Thomas and of that weaver of words, David Jones.

However, there’s a conflict of expression within the piece between the verbal exuberance and articulation of the poet and the instinctive perceptions of the character he has created in Jo Bangles. He is articulate because he is educated and in love with language; she is portrayed as having a passion for life and a deep sense of hurt and loneliness. However sensitive she is to her emotions and the natural beauty of the morning, she has not been educated in the same way as her creator and so the two aspects don’t quite gel. The enjoyment of the listener is divided, compromised.

Jo is a loud lady trapped in the silence of her own solitary widowed state, with a teenage daughter who has chosen to be mute. She stands out in the village – a garish exhibitionist, with lashings of eye-liner, bright lipstick, the glitter and jangle of cheap jewellry. (Although, given the title, she doesn’t jangle quite enough.)

Her early-morning journey takes us as far as the postman’s corner and the turn again for home. It picks up the aura of the seaside town – think Skerries, Greystones – regattas and chip vans and maliciously censorious locals, nodding and gossiping. There’s desolation and desperation in Jo Bangle’s life. She was married to a drunkard, who shared the fate of the squashed hedgehog under the wheels of an unavoidable tractor; she loves her daughter but finds no reciprocation in her self-imposed silence; she attaches her sexual longings to the genial postman Jackie, but his response is conveyed by his amplified absorption in munching an apple while waiting for the mail.

The sound design of early-morning birdsong underpins the freshness and optimism that the character tries to grasp and convey; the visual background - a wall, some spindly trees, a minimalist backdrop and litter - adds so little, it seems extraneous.

This is a one-woman piece and Mary McEvoy gives a well-observed performance. She inhabits the character in a way that suggests the potential for further exploration, if the production has a life after its run at the Mill. Much depends on her vocal and facial expression, and while she holds the space and the narrative – in a language that often comes new-minted – there is also a sense of just one more dramatic monologue among many.

Derek West is the Arts & Education Officer of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals. He edits the Association’s publications and administers its arts scheme for schools, Creative Engagement.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Jo Bangles by Dave Lordan

2 - 6 February, 2010

Produced by Eska Riada, in association with The Mill Theatre
In The Mill Theatre

Directed by Caroline Fitzgerald

Design: Caroline Fitzgerald & Margaret Deane

Sound Design: Garvan Gallagher

Lighting Design: John Crudden

With: Mary McEvoy