Sunday Morning Coming Down

Truman Town Theatre presents 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' by Mick Donnellan.

Truman Town Theatre presents 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' by Mick Donnellan.

It’s been a while since there has been such palpable excitement about a new play in Galway. Mick Donnellan worked with Druid to present Sunday Morning Coming Down as a public reading in 2009. Word of mouth regarding its production in Galway’s Town Hall Studio – Donnellan’s directorial debut – spread rapidly, leading to sell-out performances every night. The buzz is well-merited. Donnellan eschews pandering to the pretensions of some contemporary audiences: there are no postmodern bells and whistles here. Instead, he wows us with a refreshing blast of riveting realism.

Sunday Morning Coming DownSunday Morning centres on the McGuire family: Theresa (Leahy), the long-suffering stoical mother; Joe (O’Maille), the sometimes tyrannical, other times tragic alcoholic father; and their two sons, Chris (Leonard) who works in the local slaughterhouse and John (Geoghegan), based in Italy but home for a visit. When John rekindles an old flame with Sharon (Niamh Shiggins), and sees the growing problems due to Joe’s battle with the drink, he considers staying at home in the small town of Ballinrobe after all. As the play progresses, John faces conflicting guilt and avoidance about his family, as well as pressure to make the relationship work with the heartbroken girl he left behind. Hence, the plot hinges on whether he will stay or go.

Superficially, this work appears to have a rather basic plot, dealing with well-worn subjects – but Sunday Morning offers much more. Donnellan’s writing conveys contemporary, rural Irish turns of phrase and behaviour patterns with striking authenticity. This is most evident in the characterisation of Chris, a tough and practical lad who wittily relays local gossip and comically brags about his potentially poisonous drinking sessions. Leonard embodied the role with commendable ease. Martin, a nuisance neighbour who drops in cheerfully at the most awkward times to tempt Joe to the pub, also offers ample comic relief; he was hilariously played by P.J. Moore. Wild-haired and soft-spoken, Geoghegan was perfectly cast as John: the more refined, liberal son returning from his travels.

Sunday Morning Coming DownWhile the drama has at times sufficient humour to bring tears, it is also poignant. Above all, it is an intense character study. Moreover, a sense of determinism emerges as the action movingly portrays the reticence, scapegoating, eugenic rhetoric and hypocrisy of family rows and attitudes to addiction – specifically drink. O’Maille, in particular, injected nervous energy and pathos into the role of Joe. On his entrance, his powerful stage presence transformed the light-hearted atmosphere immediately into a tense one, with other cast members embodying the awkward caginess of a family struggling against dysfunction.

Chesher’s lighting was most effective during Joe’s spot-lit speech, which reveals the depths of his emotional turmoil but also evokes empathy. The set and props helped to show the cultural liminality of contemporary Ireland, blending a sofa, a beanbag and glasses of wine with a sacred heart picture, rosary beads and bottles of whiskey. The production used the paucity of the venue to great effect, particularly during the moments of family anxiety. The studio was laid out to widen slightly both the audience space and the stage space, bringing the viewers closer to the action. This made O’Maille’s broad stride, booming voice and looming presence all the more penetrating. It will be interesting to see how a much larger space will affect the overall experience: the production will be on the main stage of the Townhall Theatre on May 28th.

There are some who argue that straight realism lacks political efficacy. Yet, this work testifies to just how much is revealed through recognition. Rather than shrouding its meaning in layers artistic experimentation, Donnellan instead exposes a stark space familiar to many: a self-conscious community in which addiction and delusion work to repress painful truths. As such, this is powerful theatre.

Siobhán O’Gorman is currently completing a doctoral research project on gender and the canon in contemporary theatre at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Mick Donnellan

29 March – 2 April, 2011

Produced by Truman Town Theatre
In Town Hall Studio, Galway

Written and Directed by Mick Donnellan

Set Design: Lorna Kavanagh and Sean O’Maille

Lighting: Hillary Chesher

With: Conor Geoghegan, Cathal Leonard, Sean O’Maille, Theresa Leahy, Niamh Shiggins, P.J. Moore


Touring in 2011: 28 May - Town Hall Theatre, Galway; 2-4 June - Cork Arts Theatre; 15 June - Linenhall, Castlebar; 25-30 July - The New Theatre, Dublin.