Voices from the Cailleach

Caroline Hart in 'Voices from the Cailleach'. Photo: John Allen

Caroline Hart in 'Voices from the Cailleach'. Photo: John Allen

Caroline Hart, Rosie O'Regan and Damien Punch in 'Voices from an Cailleach'. Photo: John Allen

Caroline Hart, Rosie O'Regan and Damien Punch in 'Voices from an Cailleach'. Photo: John Allen

The central character here yearns for the possibility of being able to cross over to the spirit world from time to time. And this theatrical venture seeks something similar in the production of a piece based on the Rooney prize-winning book of poems by Leanne O’Sullivan, Cailleach, the Hag of BĂ©ara. Under a glaring light placed at either end of the main floor space at Bandon Town Hall, five actors work to bring us tip-toeing between this world and the next.

An elderly woman simply called Missus is confined to some kind of institutional home. She vividly recalls an encounter with a fisherman when she was a young woman. In the course of 70 minutes the words meander back and forth to this relationship and to the embodiment of a hag in stone. The words also wander back and forth through styles from the solidly domestic – be it a row or a moment of comfort – to something more ethereal and mythical where the fisherman might be some God-like creature capable of love and cruelty.

Paula McGlinchey and Caroline Hart. Photo: John AllenThe challenge for Paula McGlinchey, who has adapted O’Sullivan’s poems to the stage, and for director Jack Healy is to find a theatrical tone to accommodate this shape-shifting without any scene jarring.

A number of possibilities are entertained in terms of achieving a production style. Firstly, the central playing area is flanked by two long rows of seating on either side. When Caroline Hart - in a performance catching scattiness, anger and love - holds the stage alone, there is that notion that she as a player is acknowledging that she sees the audience. But there is the more interesting alternative that the shakiness of her mind curses her with the ability to see us and engage with us, even though we do not exist for anyone else on stage. All of this is hinted in the way that Hart engages with us at the beginning but it is not developed in a way that would deepen this dramatic irony throughout. As an interesting idea it is introduced but not developed. Secondly, director Jack Healy gives us a lovely opening where all five actors blow and whistle to give us the eerie sound of wind off the sea. This technique is used intermittently, but it is too good a device in the context of the work to use so sparingly. The piece presented many further possibilities for the actors to soundtrack the drama in this playful and atmospheric way. And clearly a lighting design in a better resourced production would add hugely to the evocation of atmospheres.

Caroline Hart. Photo: John AllenOne might have expected that a drama based on poetry would be full of lyrical sweeps and flourishes but McGlinchey has devised deceptively engaging narrative lines including the story of young love thwarted and the investigation of a vanishing.

The language is at times terrific, and this production is a fascinating invitation to imagine the world of the words - but it has not yet become a fully vibrant theatrical realisation of them. The richly atmospheric is suggested and hinted at rather than fully fleshed out. Much of what remains to be done before the next outing – and it is certainly worth developing – is technical in nature, such as the lighting and the use of sound for instance. What is already in place is a beguiling script rich with dramatic possibilities and impressive performances from McGlinchey, Healy and Hart and persuasive scenes of young love from Rosie O’Regan and Damien Punch.

In its present form, Voices from the Cailleach contains deeply imagined ideas and mythologies all of which, in odd and unexpected ways, touch on what it is to be alive. The most vital stuff - the words and performances - are there. A greater stylising of the work could make it a stronger and more enduring piece of theatre.

Liam Heylin

  • Review
  • Theatre

Voices from the Cailleach by Paula McGlinchey

22 September 2011

Produced by Theatre Makers in association with Metamorphic Theatre Co.
In Bandon Town Hall

Inspired by the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan

Directed by Jack Healy

With: Caroline Hart, Rosie O'Regan, Paula McGlinchey, Jack Healy

Performed as part of ENGAGE Bandon Arts Festival 2011.