Tea Set and The Candidate

Maeve McGrath in Gina Moxley's 'Tea Set' presented by Sidhe Theatre Company. Photo: Damian Byrne

Maeve McGrath in Gina Moxley's 'Tea Set' presented by Sidhe Theatre Company. Photo: Damian Byrne

Maeve McGrath and Frances Healy in Sidhe Theatre Company's double-bill of 'Tea Set' and 'The Candidate'. Photo: Damian Byrne

Maeve McGrath and Frances Healy in Sidhe Theatre Company's double-bill of 'Tea Set' and 'The Candidate'. Photo: Damian Byrne

Sidhe is Limerick’s newest theatre company. It promises to produce new and emerging Irish writers and to focus particularly on women writers. For its debut outing it engaged Gina Moxley to direct two of her own plays, Tea Set and The Candidate.

In Tea Set, Maeve McGrath - co-founder of Sidhe, with Sinead Vaughan - plays a disaffected young woman with nowhere she wants to go on the eve of the Millennium, and so takes a job looking after an elderly lady as her daughter jets off to the Caribbean sun. The play opens with McGrath’s mournful character fondling a broken tea set “made in China,” immediately conjuring a sense of the tragic tale that is to unfold. In monologue interspersed with 'dialogue' between herself and the offstage woman she is looking after, a sad and sorry story emerges that illuminates the frailties of old age and the circumstances of a young disenchanted and lonely life. Moxley’s babysitter is herself frail and has taken this job to divert herself from her own weaknesses; she is “afraid of the license to go overboard.” Through her sad eyes we see a broken old woman abandoned by family too rich to care about her, who live in a house that the babysitter notes to be “all made up” from the inspiration of a lifestyle magazine. The set of an old desk, chair and filing cabinet, a small lit Christmas tree, and a coat hanger with workmen’s clothes, really does not depict at all the description of a magazine home; however, in its gloominess it does lend to the depiction of broken lives.

Moxley’s wry humour lifts the darkness of the play. However, the production falters on engendering Moxley’s skillfully written and well observed treatment of old age. While McGrath is strong as the young unhappy, unsettled woman, when she meanders into dialogue with and description of Mrs. A, she does not bring the full essence of the old woman to the fore. The old woman’s life is marred not only by the indignities of old age but also by a horrendously brutal experience that has left her bereft of the will to live – but a lack of power in the acting and directing fails to bring Moxley’s insightful writing to a satisfactory portraiture.

By contrast The Candidate is a lively, light, mocking and satirical take on a holiday romance on a typical island resort involving a frivolous young woman and an auctioneer and aspiring backbencher. Another one-hander, it is superbly delivered by Frances Healy as a bored young nymph looking for fun in the sun.

In this short play Moxley crams many messages into her story, such as the honeymooners “starting up the predictable life of bickering.” Frances Healy’s character is on holiday with a mismatched friend she has little in common with and admits that she is no company for anyone because “I can’t bear to be alone by myself.” Drink is a refuge for her in the boredom of resort life where she has no interest in the packaged water or sky sports that relieve the monotony under the languid sun, until she meets a TD who is on the island on a “fact finding mission” and “yahoo” on taxpayers’ money, and they embark on a wild holiday romance soaked in chilled, pink and vintage champagne.

Healy takes to her role with gusto, magnificently delivering the raucous humour of Moxley’s writing. On an aptly designed set with a high table littered with suntan lotion, cocktails and sunglasses and a 'Hot Hot Hot' soundtrack pouring out, Healy’s sun-dressed character gives a hilarious account of her sex in the sun romp. She effortlessly drenches herself in the role of the sexy, light, fluffy but astute enough young thrillseeker - and when she treats us to an insight into her TD, he is brilliantly unearthed and vividly recognisable as the ‘cute hoar’ feathering his own nest: “Lies poured out of him like scutter out of a bull.” In her performance, which utilises elements of stand-up comedy and with fine, well-paced direction, Healy never loses a moment to elicit laughs from her audience.

Breda Shannon is a freelance writer and reviews books for The Irish Examiner.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Tea Set and The Candidate by Gina Moxley

5 - 8 May, 2010

Produced by Sidhe Theatre Company
In Belltable Arts Centre

Written and Directed by Gina Moxley

Lighting Design: Kevin O’Malley

Sound Design: Dara Fahy

With: Maeve McGrath and Frances Healy