Shattering Glass

'Shattering Glass' presented by Smashing Times Theatre Compnay. Photo: Leann Rigney

'Shattering Glass' presented by Smashing Times Theatre Compnay. Photo: Leann Rigney

When William Golding wrote in his 1965 essay Fable of “the history that is dead and will not lie down”, he could have been prefiguring the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ that is explored in Shattering Glass, a trilogy of short pieces performed by Smashing Times. Watching the plays in Co. Donegal is to be surrounded by the place-names – Omagh, Strabane, Castlederg, Letterkenny – that resonate as part of a ghostly past locked inside the heads of the protagonists.

In Daniel, by Mary Moynihan, the mother who loses her son in an explosion relives in a first-person present-tense monologue the awfulness of one Saturday afternoon at the end of summer in a country town. Aoife Heery’s portrayal of Heather is subtle, sensitive and unremitting in its graphic catalogue of horror – “I realise my feet are sticky” – a dawning realisation of blood that leads to the body of her son.

In Crossings, in another tensely-acted monologue, Adam Traynor unpacks the past of Tom, a man whose acts of terror embroiled members of his community and his family. He is in enforced exile, a wanted man facing an impassive border; crossing it entails risk, draws out residual guilts and releases visceral hatreds. While writer Paul Kennedy attempts to blur that border with a fall of snow and to assuage the agony through the emergence of love, the dominant sense is of almost unbroken darkness.

In the centre-piece, The Glass Wall, (devised by Gillian Hackett and cast) a pair of lovers (Traynor and Heery) – one from each side of the religious divide – are pursued by the unrelenting demands of the past. The stage is populated with ghosts that clutch at each of them, pulling them backwards towards sectarian hatred and violence. There is a crude vigour about the emotions portrayed and the rhetoric comes with the sledge-hammer beat of unwavering rhetoric: “THIS-IS-NOT-OV-ER” (Paul Nolan, the third cast-member, in a concentrated portrait of bigotry and intimidation).

The performance of Shattering Glass in Letterkenny came at the end of a day-long seminar looking at ‘Reconciliation and Equality through Drama’. On this showing, raw tribalism seemed like the only equaliser and the signs of reconciliation (butterflies in one piece, the black American woman consoling the troubled Tyrone nationalist in another) seem too grafted on to carry total conviction. The abiding sense is of a recurrent nightmare. There is no room for irony, or humour; scant space for warmth or hope.

Here are familiar themes from a recent past, treated as components of a visceral, experiential ghost ride. It keeps the senses alert, but it’s hard to see how the experience can be moderated without the post-show discussion which was an integral part of the run. This offered a tentative route out of the bleakness towards optimism, if confrontation of the past can be a precursor to reconciliation, but it left the audience positioned uneasily, somewhere between the classroom and the community hall. As one of the authors observed, “to be preachy on the stage seldom works.”

Mary Moynihan’s direction is both ascetic and intense: the staging is bleak, the lighting spartan; continuity between the pieces is provided by electrifying, throbbing music; the acting is disciplined and utterly concentrated. The horrors of the past have been partially humanised, but will not lie down.

Derek West

  • Review
  • Theatre

Shattering Glass by Mary Moynihan, Paul Kennedy, Gillian Hackett

11-14 January, 2011

Produced by Smashing Times Theatre Co.
In Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny

Directed by Mary Moynihan

Lighting Design: Mannix McPhillips

Costume Design: Therese Mullan

With: Aoife Heery, Paul Nolan and Adam Traynor