The Dove and the Crow

Paul Donnelly, Eimear Kenny and John Cullen in Philip Doherty's 'The Dove and the Crow', presented by Artemis Flow Theatre.

Paul Donnelly, Eimear Kenny and John Cullen in Philip Doherty's 'The Dove and the Crow', presented by Artemis Flow Theatre.

The combined silence and stillness of actors on stage can have a profound impact, especially when such moments of calm are as rare as they were in Artemis Flow’s production of Philip Doherty's new play, The Dove and the Crow.

Following the death of his mother, the play’s protagonist, Cormac, has returned to Ireland from America. Re-immersed in his past, he is forced to face up to a secret that he has, until now, managed to evade. The plot hinges on the gradual, cathartic revelation of this secret. The poles of Cormac’s conscience are embodied on stage as characters: Good (Eimear Kenny) and Bad (Paul Brendan Donnelly), and the dialogue between Cormac and his probing, determined pursuers — these two polar selves — builds up to a rapid and almost incessant exchange.

Flashbacks, appropriately spot-lit with a softer golden hue, illuminate Cormac’s current problems via his experiences in New York. These scenes allowed Tara Breathnach, playing the protagonist’s New York girlfriend Tina, to convey skilfully her command of ‘crazy’; she shifted from playful temptress to distressed and irrational, barren yet baby-obsessed shrew.

Even when Cormac is alone, he is in constant debate with his good and bad psyches. The production never allowed these three characters to make eye-contact, but the movement and dialogue was relentless, making such scenes stressful to watch. However, the strain created by these moments gave a deeper sense of Cormac’s anxiety. Gavin Morgan’s set builds on this feeling of unease and confinement. Most of the action took place in the combined kitchen/living area of Cormac’s flat: the shelves cluttered with utensils and bottles of liquor, and the focal point of the space a bright red sofa. Director Jessica Curtis maximised the claustrophobic potential of both set and venue by having John Cullen (Cormac) pace in progressively larger and more frantic strides. Cormac’s entrapment was most palpable as Cullen circled the sofa, pursued by Bad and Good.

More striking than any of this, however, was the moment of calm that preceded the interval. A frozen image of Cormac, with Good and Bad closing in from each side, provided this necessary pause in action and dialogue. Briefly holding this stance paradoxically both relieved and produced tension.

The drama also offers plenty of comic relief. Barry, Cormac’s younger brother, is the main source of this humour. In his amusing performance of young oaf/lady’s man, Conor Geogeghan employed swaggering, cock-like movements offset by a confused innocence. Although relying much on the tools of traditional realism, the production used the ‘fourth wall’ variously as a television screen and a mirror, for example when Barry looked into the audience to admire his reflection, practice his dance moves and test out his chat-up lines – culminating in a hilarious sexual encounter with the sofa.

Oscillating between tension and release, the production was both gripping and entertaining, but it could do little to invigorate the moralising of the writing towards the end. The final speeches of resolution resemble too closely the content of a public service advertisement. Cormac’s options are good or bad, black or white, leaving little room for that intriguing grey area.

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

The Dove and the Crow by Philip Doherty

3 - 6 March, 2010

Produced by Artemis Flow Theatre
In Town Hall Studio, Galway

Directed by Jessica Curtis

Set Design: Gavin Morgan

Lighting Design: Pete Ashton

Wardrobe Design: Ciara Brady

Sound: Rebecca Atkinson/Ger Madden

With: John Cullen, Conor Geogeghan, Eimear Kenny, Paul Brendan Donnelly, Tara Breathnach