The Sweet Shop

Fregoli Theatre Company presents 'The Sweet Shop' by Maria Tivnan.

Fregoli Theatre Company presents 'The Sweet Shop' by Maria Tivnan.

Fregoli Theatre Company presents 'The Sweet Shop' by Maria Tivnan.

Fregoli Theatre Company presents 'The Sweet Shop' by Maria Tivnan.

Award-winning actress and director Maria Tivnan shows that her skills extend to writing with her new two-hander The Sweet Shop. Here, Tivnan offers a work akin to plays that Fregoli has successfully produced in the past, such as Raymond Scannell’s Breathing Water (2011) and Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs (2010). Through poetic dialogue, non-sequential vignettes and rapidly changing performance styles, The Sweet Shop weaves together the heartrending story of childhood sweethearts Michael and Cass, and their fraught links to the small Irish town they call home. As such, the play epitomises Fregoli’s penchant for balancing pathos with youthful energy and variety on stage.

Tivnan’s aptly-titled work concerns a longing for seemingly simpler times and a struggle to grow up. The action hinges on the awkward reunion of Michael and Cass who have both returned home due to family obligations. Through flashbacks and narratives we see the characters as children playing in the sweet shop that belongs to Michael’s father. Gradually we learn how their friendship provides a haven from their dysfunctional families, families that eventually contribute to the demise of the characters’ burgeoning romance. The drama is driven by such painful questions as whether it is escapist or healthy to cut ties with home; whether a return to the familiar signifies failure or maturity; and whether the ghosts of our past imprison or enlighten us.

Jarlath Tivnan and Kate Murray were equally impressive as Michael and Cass, adeptly switching between the child, teen and adult versions of these characters. Each injected poignancy into spot-lit soliloquys; in their interactions, they embodied the repression and reticence lying at the play’s core. Under the skilled direction of Maria Tivnan and Rob McFeely, the actors adapted their bodies to the shifting moods of the piece, veering from freeze frames, to stylised slow motion to fast-paced energy. Joe McEvoy’s lighting intensified the production’s diversity, brightly illuminating sudden bursts of emotion while creating softer hues during more tender moments.

The set was bare, apart from a bundle of cushions centre-stage, constructed to look like giant sweets by designer Deirdre McKenna. These were used as props throughout the performance. As Michael and Cass look down at their town after the debs – seeing for once its beauty, through the lens of alcohol – the actors used the cushions strikingly to construct an image of distant rooftops. However, during moments such as these, other tools or the actors' bodies might have been just as effective. Maria Tivnan also distributed caramel cups as audience members exited after the performance. While the taste of the caramel cups added to the sensuous nostalgia of the piece, the presence of pillows disguised as sweets on stage seemed to hammer the title a little too much.

Fregoli maximised the skills of its highly creative production team, but Tivnan’s script stood out as the strongest aspect of the show. Her dialogue is strikingly nuanced, blending moving poetry with humorous vernacular, as well as classical and contemporary references. At one point, she even manages to tease comical, philosophical musing out of the image on a Tayto bag. The Sweet Shop reveals Tivnan’s ability to find immense beauty within modest subject matter; a full-length play from this aspiring dramatist is an exciting prospect.

Siobhán O’Gorman teaches at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she has just completed her doctorate in contemporary theatre.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Sweet Shop by Maria Tivnan

27 – 29 June, 2012

Produced by Fregoli Theatre Company
In Town Hall Studio

Directed by Maria Tivnan and Rob McFeely

Lighting and Sound: Joe McEvoy

Costumes: Maria Tivnan

Set: Deirdre McKenna

With: Jarlath Tivnan and Kate Murray