Slaughterhouse Swan

'Slaughterhouse Swan', a new play by Elizabeth Moynihan.

'Slaughterhouse Swan', a new play by Elizabeth Moynihan.

Transvestitism, lesbianism, veganism, sexual misconduct, fililal abscondment and marital breakdown: when it comes to broaching hot button issues, you can’t accuse writer and director Elizabeth Moynihan of being shy. However, in her hour long piece for the Absolut Gay Theatre Festival Dublin, there’s just so much going on in content, tone and style that it’s hard to know what, if anything, should be taken seriously.

Foreboding music kicks off the performance as estranged son Canais (Mackay) returns home to rural Ireland having spent the previous ten years in Australia. Although he left on bad terms, he is warmly received by his father, a butcher, to whom he promptly confesses his veganism before catching up on an eventful decade. (Note: just because the prodigal son wears pink doesn’t mean he’s the one about to come out.)

Unhappy to see him at first, sister Cepta eventually warms up and imparts all that happened in the interim. Gathered around the kitchen table with a bottle of whisky, overlooked by the Sacred Heart, the stories come hard and fast: ‘Daddy’ is a transvestite; Cepta herself has spent two years in prison for having sex with a fifteen year old female student, Rose (O’Donoghue); and ‘Mammy’, who is supposedly in Lough Derg, has actually left for good.

No matter the brew, this is a lot for anyone to take, especially a sober spectator. Although the production takes itself very seriously during these moments, and the lengthy exposition is delivered with ostensible sincerity, the traumas are so extreme that the audience inevitably explodes with laughter, and there’s nothing in the delivery that suggests this is a desired response.

The unwieldy naturalism is intercut with hallucinatory moments during which Cepta and her student meet. While these occasions might have been used to explore some genuine feeling between the two, and indeed inject the action with some plausible dramatic tension via moral ambivalence, they are primarily fraught encounters that reinforce the inappropriateness of their relationship.

More problematic is the representation of the transvestite character. Cepta’s heart-felt disclosure of her father’s cross-dressing is undermined when he is suddenly illuminated in his bedroom mouthing pop tunes into a mirror. Sporting a blonde bob and a hot-pink twin-set, he looks more like the love child of Olivia Newton John and Tracy Turnblad than the habitual cross-dresser we are led to believe he is. So, despite the grave manner in which this storyline is introduced, in performance it is a source of mockery, and the father figure is portrayed more as a wannabe drag act than a tranvestite whose situation requires genuine reflection.

Not only does this loose management of tone and style suggest that Daddy was indeed a causal link in the other tragedies that befell the family, as indeed the journalists reporting Cepta’s sentencing intimated – “Perverted Drag Dad Grooms Girls for Lusty Lesbian Daughter” – but in its flippant treatment it conspires to undermine the play further and skew focus.  

Fintan Walsh is a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Drama, Trinity College Dublin. He is ITM’s staff writer.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Slaughterhouse Swan by Elizabeth Moynihan

9-15 May, 2010

Produced by Eala Productions in association with Focus Theatre
In The New Theatre

Written and directed by Elizabeth Moynihan

Sound and music: Cormac O’Connor

Costumes: Edward O’Grady Walshe

With: Sonya O’Donoghue, Paschal Scott, Frank Mackay and Fiona Condon