I made my First Communion in Waterford back in 1972. I have only vague recollections of the day, and those that I have, have been aided and abetted by photographic reminders. I do remember my white drawstring bag, though, and a Communion Prayer Book with a mother of pearl cover that I probably got from an aunt. Of the day itself, I draw a blank. No matter how hard I try, I can’t recall any specifics. But the sense of the occasion is still strong.
If I’m in Dublin for any length of time, I make sure to check what production Viking Theatre has going on in Connolly’s – The Sheds, in Clontarf. It was there I caught the sublime one-man-show by Philip Doherty – The Pilgrim, in which Rex Ryan gave us his all. Last night, having been housebound by the snow for three days, we walked down to check out Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s interpretation of Eoin Colfer’s Holy Mary. Colfer’s pre-writer experience of being a primary school teacher shows through as he nails the conversation and the wonderings of the two seven-year-old stars, Mary and Majella.
Played by Mary Murray (Love Hate, Adam & Paul, Magdalene Sisters) and multi-award-winning actor Maeve Fitzgerald, we meet the two girls on the day of their First Confession in the run-up to their First Communion. It says something about their acting skills when I had no trouble in believing that these girls were just 7. Murray and Fitzgerald between them also cover the rest of the roles: Mrs Leary (Mary’s mother), Mrs Barnes (Majella’s mother), Miss Murphy (the teacher) and Fr Ibar (the priest).
The play is laugh-out-loud funny. The girls’ take on religion is reminiscent of the kids in Give up yer aul sins and the teacher Miss Murphy, capable of going ‘full-on Provo’ when she’s in a bad mood, is also from the North. I’m still laughing at Majella’s explanation of Moses needing some ‘me time’ away from the Israelites.
The kindly priest, Fr Ibar, is from the Wesht of Ireland, the place where all the ‘unfortunates’ live. Conjuring up notions of Frank O’Connor’s First Confession, through his relationship with the girls, the good Father embodies a church I miss – one that is empathetic, patient, understanding, and in tune with the needs of its parishioners. In an attempt to broker peace between the two enemies, Fr Ibar (played by both Murray and Fitzgerald) encourages the pair to consider that they might be more alike than might appear.
For all its comedic lines and clever turns of phrase, the play offers a serious exploration of bullying and how cruel kids can be. It shows us that while our perception is very much our reality, other people have their perceptions of our reality, too. And rarely will these match.
Set in 1986 Dublin, the expressions took me back to my own childhood. I knew a few ‘right rips’ and had an aunt who was always ‘on her last nerve’. I was transported back to a time when coming from the country, I was slagged for being a culchie. I split my sides laughing at the three reasons Mary gives for culchies being allowed to come to Dublin – if they’re priests, if they’re nurses looking for husbands, or if they’re going to the All Ireland. Classic.
Billed as a ‘hilarious and heartbreaking tale of Communion, confusion, and consternation’ the original production back in 2011 lasted 55 minutes. We had a play in two parts, each lasting about 45 minutes. It played to a full house on Saturday, and I’m sure that when word gets out, tickets will be thin on the ground. If you’re in Dublin between now and 17 March, treat yourself. You’d be hard pushed to find a better way to spend 15 quid.