Marie O'Rourke in 565+ as part of the 2010 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Lucy Clarke

Marie O'Rourke in 565+ as part of the 2010 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Lucy Clarke

Marie O’Rourke sits in the front row of the theatre before her own performance begins, yapping. Not deliberately drawing attention to herself, she’s just in high spirits, spinning her head around to talk to people she knows. You can tell she’s good fun by her lively gestures and the reactions of others. But as soon as quietness descends and the show begins, Marie is keen to remind us that she has a serious side too, one she’s tried to conceal since the age of fifteen, and one she’s been exploring more since the death of her husband in 2003.

O’Rourke is a relative of director Úna McKevitt, who makes theatre with non-professional performers. While her very successful Victor and Gord included up to six people on stage, in this piece sixty-year-old primary school teacher Marie has the task of commanding the space alone. Apart from some banter with stage manager Duncan Molloy, who dishes out cues and some support from the corner, the production essentially involves Marie retelling various scenes from her past. Moreover, she claims that theatre actually saved her life by guiding her through a period of intense grief. But for the woman who has looked to everything from meditation to group counselling to find peace, you can’t help thinking that she might eventually move on from theatre too.

The narrative is structured around memories from Marie’s life, beginning with the death of her twin sister at birth and ending with the death of her father. In between these points, the performer draws on lighter anecdotes, although she keeps coming back to her relationship with her husband. Shortly into the performance, she tells us that he was an alcoholic, that his drinking damaged their family, and that she eventually found the strength to get a barring order not long before he died. It was him or her family, she surmises, although this decision is not recalled without guilt. During revelations like this, O’Rourke starts to draw us closer, although she invariably picks up another topic and moves on, creating the impression that she doesn’t fully trust us, or herself, just yet. At one point she speaks directly to an audience member, although telling him how much she could hate him if he did her wrong is not necessarily the best way to go.

It’s incredibly difficult to pretend you’re not acting and Marie’s performance falls somewhere between trying to keep it real and wanting to be theatrical. It seems like the latter might be her nature, but ironically this doesn’t always suit the restrained codes of reality performance. The result is that she presents her story, rather than shares it with us. This isn’t helped by the fact that she doesn’t bring any intimate documentation with her, as even the most confessional of professional solo performers tend to do, from Tim Miller to Bobby Baker. On the barest of sets, a photo or some other memento would have said a thousand words and made us feel like we were really getting an insight to Marie’s personal life. When she tinkles a tune on an electronic piano, or sings a song she once sang to her own children, you catch glimpses of how effective this change of register can be.

Marie seems most vivid when she’s not moving through sorrow. When she dances like she did as a child, she feels very present, and when she describes spontaneously throwing one of her pupils a picnic on a summer’s day, you’ll wish you had a teacher like her. In this warm and sometimes touching production you’ll get some genuine insight into Marie O’Rourke’s life, but to get to the heart of the matter, you might also have to follow her into the foyer after the performance.

  • Review
  • Theatre

565+ by Úna McKevitt

Sep 30-Oct 3

Produced by Úna McKevitt
In Project Arts Centre (Cube)

Conceived and directed by Úna McKevitt

Set and Lighting Design by Ciarán O’Melia

Music and Sound by Phillip Stewart