The Chronicle of Oggle

'The Chronicles of Oggle' written and performed by Peter Gowen. Photo: Donal Gallagher

'The Chronicles of Oggle' written and performed by Peter Gowen. Photo: Donal Gallagher

'The Chronicles of Oggle' written and performed by Peter Gowen. Photo: Donal Gallagher

'The Chronicles of Oggle' written and performed by Peter Gowen. Photo: Donal Gallagher

Peter Gowen’s play began its touring run of County Cork in the town of Youghal. This is notable not just because it is Gowen’s hometown, but also because Youghal, which has been hit hard by the recession, is just such a place that can reap benefits from Cork’s Everyman Palace theatre’s new touring initiative. The initiative, a welcome development that will see three shows a year travel to small theatres in Cork county, kicked off last month with The Chronicles of Oggle, a work that has much to say about an Ireland past and in many ways still present. The play, which is performed by Gowen, also crafts a picture both gentle and caustic of an Irish small-town, where the strength of community spirit is also perforated by anxiety, bullying and silence.

Photo: Donal GallagherThat silence should even resonate as a consideration in this play, which is performed largely at breakneck speed by Gowen, who narrates the piece as Pakie, but who moves through a myriad of other characters besides, says much about what the writer is attempting to achieve with the work. Although Pakie is benign, sweetly-humoured, and resilient, he has been damaged early by the silence of a culture that allowed for him and his baby sister to be taken from his parents, the siblings separated, and Pakie placed in a residential home run by the Christian Brothers. Silence too meant the child has no idea – and neither does an audience – what is happening to him when he is plucked some years later from the home and driven by a drunken, erratic and intermittently violent Brother to the place of his new adoptive parents, a restrained, simple couple, cowed by an authoritarian church, but nonetheless capable of replacing some of the nurturing so badly deprived of Pakie in his formative years.

To this extent, one could suggest that, despite its comic overtones – Gowen mines Pakie's voice for laughs: “Not only do I have a pint,” he says of his first trip to the pub with his adoptive father, “I have opinions” – a large slice of anger lies at the heart of this play. The anger viscerally erupts at only one point, when Pakie, now in day school, rears up at the constant bullying and brutality of the Brothers, and beats one of them to a pulp. However, it is latent throughout, anger at Pakie's stunted development, fury at a Church allowed absolute power to destroy lives – some of Pakie's former classmates are unable to live with the legacy of the abuse they suffered as children – anger at the shame used to keep an entire country from speaking out on behalf of its vulnerable citizens. In this way, Oggle is a timely piece of work.

The play is produced by Asylum Productions, a company attuned to the possibilities of theatre. Director Donal Gallagher offers a delicate, but significant input – without his involvement, it is easy to see how the work might have descended into slapstick or cliché. As it is, it is alternately funny, lyrical and dark, with Gallagher carefully walking the line amongst the different moods. Most evocative, and a recurring theme throughout the play, is Pakie's engagement with the beach in the small town where he lives. When he goes down to the sea, the light changes, and lighting designer Eoin Winning bathes the performance space in a blue and orange glow. The sea is where Pakie is at his most poetic, he goes there for respite and release; for him, it is a location that should never be tarnished by the destruction of the human world.

As the stories of Ireland’s not so distant past emerge, The Chronicles of Oggle stamps its place among the reminders of what never should have been and should never be again.

Rachel is an arts critic and journalist based in Cork.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Chronicle of Oggle by Peter Gowen

20 - 25 April, 2013

Produced by The Everyman, in association with Asylum Productions
In Everyman Palace

Written and performed by Peter Gowen

Directed by Donal Gallagher

Set & Costume Design: Medb Lambert

Lighting Design: Eoin Winning

Sound Design: Irene Buckley