Tiny Plays for Ireland 2

Mary Murray and Sorcha Fox in Fishamble's 'Tiny Plays for Ireland 2'. Photo: Pat Redmond

Mary Murray and Sorcha Fox in Fishamble's 'Tiny Plays for Ireland 2'. Photo: Pat Redmond

Mary Murray and Steve Blount in Fishamble's 'Tiny Plays for Ireland 2'. Photo: Pat Redmond

Mary Murray and Steve Blount in Fishamble's 'Tiny Plays for Ireland 2'. Photo: Pat Redmond

Good things come in small packages, or, in the case of Tiny Plays for Ireland II, playlets. This is the second instalment of Fishamble: The New Play Company’s short-play venture, which invited established writers and members of the public to dramatise the state of the nation in theatrical form. Part II reminds us of this endeavour in its opening moments as Mark Cantan’s Somewhere invokes the lives of ordinary citizens with its refrain “somewhere in Ireland…..” The experiences enumerated are more universal than particular – a baby is being born, someone is dying – but Cantan’s unique statistical, satirical viewpoint is entirely his own. And that is the real joy of Tiny Plays: the discovery of a panoply of perspectives and voices.

The plays themselves are various in subject matter and structure. There is a moving mediation on illness in conventional monologue form from Geraldine McAlinden in Knowing and a simple scene from Joan Ryan (Isolation) which achieves the same pathos without using a single word. There are scenes that rely on voiceover for dramatic effect – Maeve Binchy’s lonely middle-aged singletons in Soul Mates and a teenage suicide in Eleanor White’s Light at the End of the Tunnel – though the voiceover actually deadens the emotional impact. There are disgruntled leprachauns and adulterous grannies in the broad comedies of Frederico Storni’s Weekend Abroad and Lucy Montague-Moffat’s Hearts, which play stereotypes for laughs; moving domestic dramas (Kevin Gildea’s The Phone Records, Justine Mitchell’s The Night Feed); as well as precise character dramas (Conor Hanratty’s excellent Ground Meat).

And of course there are the overtly political ‘plays for Ireland’ – among them Sarah Binchy’s Thorny Island, which deals with abortion and Tom Swift’s I Stand Here Before You, which satirises political corruption – although these are the least successful plays in the repertoire. The short format doesn’t lend itself to proper analysis and both plays take an obvious approach to their condemnation of the current status quo. Keith Farnan’s The Straight Talk and Pauline McLynn’s The Caring: Ireland 2013 might have suffered from similar literalness were it not for Steve Blount’s brilliant bemused-clown performances as a bank customer denied access to his savings and a hospital-bound drunkard easing another patient into the next life.

The roles in all 25 plays are shared among Blount and four other able actors - Peter Daly, Sorcha Fox, Mary Murray and Don Wycherly – who nimbly navigate the required costume changes, shifts in tone and Sabine Dargent’s runway set, which, over 100 minutes, allows them to fall from piers, board ships, contemplate the horizon, have dinner dates etc. It also allows the direct address of Christine McKeon’s Positive Protest, in which the actors drop all guises to solicit audience feedback on positive change.

If the plays range from political to pantomime, it is their arrangement by director Jim Culleton that should allow a greater sense of meaning to emerge from the production as a whole. It seems a pity, then, that Mike Finn’s Life in 2 Syllables, which echoes Cantan’s opening invocation of the natural life-cycle with wickedly clever attention to language, should be placed in the penultimate position when it would make a stirring counterpoint to the production’s beginning. Instead Colum McCann’s Slanesman closes the evening - a mark of the writer’s prestige, perhaps, rather than the play’s merit - but in the context of the general obliqueness of the Tiny Play’s mission, McCann's mythology strains too hard for significance.

Tiny Plays is a great concept, and over two years and two cycles it has offered audiences fifty unique glimpses of the world around us and the endless potentials of theatre. If the state of the nation sentiment seems a little strained – where are Ireland’s migrant cultures, for example? – it is entertainment with a built-in safety-net; if you don’t like one play, well, it’s over before you have a chance even to consider why, while the plays you like become doubly impressive because of how much meaning they can impart within their tight and tiny structure.

Sara Keating

  • Review
  • Theatre

Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 by Fishamble: The New Play Company

12 - 30 March, 2013

Produced by Fishamble: The New Play Company
In Project Arts Centre

Tiny Plays for Ireland II includes:

'Somewhere' by Mark Cantan; 'Grand Canal Dock' by Tanya Wilson; 'Ode to Life' by Richie O’Sullivan;
'Sanctuary' by Liz Quinn; 'The Ramblers' by Graham Stull; 'Soul Mates' by Maeve Binchy; 'Hearts' by Lucy Montague Moffatt; 'The Straight Talk' by Keith Farnan; 'Knowing' by Geraldine McAlinden; 'Blisters' by Patrick O’Sullivan; 'Weekend Abroad' by Federico Storni; 'Thorny Island' by Sarah Binchy;
'Voices in the Tunnel' by Garrett Keogh; 'Isolation' by Joan Ryan; 'The Phone Records' by Kevin Gildea;
'Ground Meat' by Conor Hanratty; 'The Night Feed' by Justine Mitchell; 'I Stand Here Before You' by Tom Swift; 'Positive Protest' by Christine McKeon; 'The Caring, Ireland 2013' by Pauline McLynn; 'Light at the End of the Tunnel' by Eleanor White; 'Naked Photographs of My Mother' by Brendan Griffin; 'The Cost of Your Forgetting' by Henry Martin; 'Life in 2 Syllables' by Mike Finn; 'Slanesman' by Colum McCann.

Directed by Jim Culleton

With: Steve Blount, Peter Daly, Sorcha Fox, Mary Murray and Don Wycherley