Velvet Revolution

Truman Town Theatre presents 'Velvet Revolution' by Mick Donnellan.

Truman Town Theatre presents 'Velvet Revolution' by Mick Donnellan.

Mick Donnellan has proved himself a highly prolific writer since the premiere of his first play, Sunday Morning Coming Down, in March 2011. Since then, he has added Shortcut to Hallelujah and Gun Metal Grey to his dramatic repertoire, as well publishing his novel, El Niño. While his first three plays form a loose ‘Ballinrobe’ trilogy, he departs from his ensemble of well-drawn Mayo characters in his latest drama, Velvet Revolution: a two-hander concerning a dysfunctional couple living in a basement studio in an undisclosed, rural Irish town.

The production opened on Fyodor (Cathal Leonard), reaching straight for a drink and blasting Empire of the Sun’s ‘We are the People’ from his stereo. Though Leonard would later embody Fyodor’s exasperation, at this point he played the character as focused and exuberant, settling down to work on an old typewriter. Moments later his wife, Shelly (Kate McCarthy) strutted on set and, turning down his music, was immediately established as his antagonist. Donnellan’s direction, McCarthy’s performance and Henson’s choice of costume combined to construct Shelly as a femme fatale; as Shelly, McCarthy regularly appeared as if she was striking a pose. The relevance of the opening song’s lyrics emerged as the action advanced: Leonard and McCarthy impressively conveyed a relationship that has seen happier times — intimate but insecure, mutually-dependent yet very vulnerable.

Fyodor is an aspiring writer and Shelly, it seems, is his muse. Having lost his job, and to fund his gambling addiction, it emerges that Fyodor has borrowed money from a dangerous loan shark, Kevin. Shelly has invited Kevin to dinner in the hope of reaching a peaceful solution to their financial woes, which seems unlikely. The plot hinges on the anxious wait for Kevin’s arrival. It appears that no meal is forthcoming, and the characters consume copious amounts of cheap vodka to stave off the hunger. Lines of thought are drunkenly picked up and dropped, punctuated by Fyodor reading his comically-pretentious work at Shelly’s request. Tautological arguments increase the suspense, as Shelly taunts Fyodor with hints of her adulterous behaviour.

The set, arranged by Donnellan and Leonard, contributed to Fyodor’s characterisation as a tortured artist figure. Devoid of furniture apart from two chairs, a table and (of course) a drinks cabinet, the space was littered with the debris of creativity: an old typewriter, scrunched up sheets of paper, face-down open books, empty bottles and tipped-over glasses. The action is confined to one room, adding to the sense of frustrated stagnancy. Later, an axe, appearing as a Chekhovian symbol, was incorporated as part of the stage props. This seemed at odds with the play’s title which connotes a bloodless shift in power. However, the interplay between the title and the axe significantly added to the tension of the piece, leaving the audience to wonder if the constant threat of violence was imminent or impotent. The lighting could perhaps have been harsher during tenser moments, but its hazy quality complemented the drama’s murky world of alcohol abuse.

A cultural divide exists between husband and wife — evident, for example, when the less-educated Shelly dismisses Fyodor’s literary jargon. Yet, in other ways, the two understand each other perfectly. By means of skilfully-developed dialogue and characterisation, Donnellan shows how different backgrounds are rendered insignificant in the face of shared social problems. The subtle power of the writing surfaces though the intricate connections Donnellan weaves between the pair. Shelly defines Fyodor as a masochist, although she humorously struggles to deliver the word. It seems, however, that the play is about competing masochistic desires, fuelled partly by poor parental examples: Fyodor covets the heartbreak that might creatively inspire him, as his life seems to spiral towards a tragic end similar to his father’s; Shelly, whose father physically abused her mother, appears set to tease a violent reaction out of her own husband. At one point, the two imagine a better life, in which they might have the means to, as Shelly puts it, “start a family, get some proper vodka.” While the line epitomises the play’s black humour, it ominously points to the cyclical nature of familial dysfunction.

Although Velvet Revolution differs somewhat from Donnellan’s earlier work, the dramatist furthers his exploration of the interconnections between stifling rural communities, fraught relationships and addiction. His dialogue, too, remains as familiar and immediate as it is darkly comic. Yet, Donnellan’s Ireland stands out against folkloric, mythologised or poeticised visions of the country. As such, he offers a fresh and original voice in Irish theatre.

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

  • Review
  • Theatre

Velvet Revolution by Mick Donnellan

10 – 14 April, 2012

Produced by Truman Town Theatre
In Town Hall Studio

Directed by Mick Donnellan

Costumes: Michelle Henson

Set: Mick Donnellan and Cathal Leonard

Lighting: Mick Donnellan and Mike O’Halloran

With: Cathal Leonard and Kate McCarthy