The Bridge Below the Town

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

Livin' Dred Theatre Co presents 'The Bridge Below the Town' by Patrick McCabe.

What are the colours of dreams, or, nightmares? Does one remember a colour, or, only a feeling? Patrick McCabe’s new play The Bridge Below the Town, directed by Padraic McIntyre for Livin' Dred, stages the disorientation and irrational fluidity that is most commonly associated with the narratives of the subconscious. The small-town Ireland of the 1950s in this play is not reflected through imagery of a pastoral idyll, nor the greys of a long rainy winter. Rather, the pressures of a judgmental society and an oppressive religion come to the fore through the unravelling of protagonist Golly Murray’s (Catherine Walsh) state of mind.

Bridge Below the TownMcCabe’s play centres around one woman’s haunted memories of being a wife, parent and neighbour through flashbacks to the past and present-moment hallucinatory exchanges with a ghost. Walsh enters the stage hunched over in the middle of the night searching for her pills, and the turmoils of decades past seem imprinted on her burdened physicality. As both memory and hallucination intermingle, McIntyre stages the moments of intense grief and peace which mapped her experience of private personhood and public citizen.

McCabe’s heightened, and to an extent, hysterical tropes of Irish wife (Gina Moxley, Lorna Quinn, Janet Moran), clergy (Malcolm Adams), and the only gay in the village (Damien Devaney), are rewarded with recognition and appreciation by the audience. Moxley, Quinn and Moran’s tight ensemble movement, and highly-theatricalised performance suggests they are almost one character, not three, emphasising the sense of ‘the world’ against Golly. Through the laughter however, the needless cruelty of times past is also identified - when neighbour critiqued neighbour, education was for an elite few, and the taunts of being sent “to the mental” struck fear in anyone and everyone. These tropes serve to note many of the dominant tensions of twentieth-century Irish culture, such as controlled sexualities, tired and lonely housewives who just need a break, and the greed and fear that fuels the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

Bridge Below the TownThese embattled dynamics pervading this cabin-feverish community are pitched against an international background through the interruptions from the wireless. President Kennedy’s booming voice warns us of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear weapons; weaponry so powerful it may abolish humankind. The magnitude of this awesome force is not lost on Fr Hand (Adams), who quickly realises his authority has been usurped. Even the weight of the Church cannot pray away the bomb. Yet, the ensemble cast quickly return to conversations of holidays, from Bundoran to Butlins. The use of interruptions as a dramatic device are central to the structure of this play; one moment Golly paces her kitchen at night looking for her tablets, the next, the audience is transported to many decades’ previous, as the ghosts of her past are resurrected in ghoulish and high-pitched caricatures.

McIntyre’s direction has moments of high wit; ‘Mrs Boo’ popping her head out of the fridge to harass Golly pithily reflects a pressure of ‘no escape’ as she desperately seeks solace. The comic timing of sweet Patsy (Adams) and eccentric Jemmy the Buck Reilly (Devaney) are well-paced, particularly Jemmy’s observation “Up Russia! Fuck this town!”

Bridge Below the TownA first glance at Fergal Donnelly’s and Micky McGuirk’s set suggests a functional, unimaginative, scenic space. However, in performance, accompanied by Barry McKinny’s lighting design, the space is successfully transformed into multiple states of consciousness of memory, lucidity and madness. McKinny’s innovative and visceral design strikingly conveys Golly’s loss of personal control, and demarcates dramatic reality from moments of memory and hallucination. The mix of red and green lights, swirling shapes, shadows and Fr Hand’s bed with crucifix cut-outs would be equally well placed in a Madonna music video of the 1980s. Cormac Carroll’s sound design utilises the power of silence as well as mayhem; JF Kennedy’s authoritative boom may provide the audience with an era, but it is the slow ‘tap, tap, tap’ of a leaky kitchen sink that suggests a haunted presence is lurking.

Many dilemmas and problems are suggested through this play, yet few are carried through to resolution. In a sense, the play offers a visual pastiche or homage to a set of cultural references that one can quite clearly tag ‘Oirish’. The play concludes on a sweet note with Patsy and Golly sharing tea and biscuits over the kitchen table, as sleep eludes both. The suggestion that heaven is what is around us already, should we choose to see it, may be the intended final message of the piece, yet it is referenced so briefly, and against a background of noisy, heightened ensemble performance and radical set changes that it does not linger definitively as the play’s overall idea. Nevertheless, for the Roscommon audience, a standing ovation was this performance’s just reward.

Miriam Haughton lectures in the School of English at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Bridge Below the Town by Patrick McCabe

Produced by Livin' Dred Theatre Co
In Roscommon Arts Centre

Directed by Padraic McIntyre

Lighting Design: Barry McKinny

Sound Design: Cormac Carroll

Choreography: Olwen Grindley

Set Design: Fergal Donnelly and Micky McGuirk

Costume Design: Fiona Ryan

With: Malcolm Adams, Damien Devaney, Gina Moxley, Lorna Quinn, Janet Moran and Catherine Walsh.