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Holy Mary

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.

 

 

 

 

2015 Grateful 22

It’s been years since I last lived in Clontarf. I did my time in Dublin 3 many  lifetimes ago. And I loved it. Being able to smell a low tide. Waking up to seagulls (before we were on the outs). Living in relatively luxury in a mews built by an avant-garde American couple at the back of a house on Castle Avenue before it was popular to use up every available parcel of land for housing. It was great.

Occasionally, I’d venture down to the village itself and have a pint in The Sheds owned by the Connollys. Their name is still on the window but whether that’s just laziness or actual testimony to the fact that they still own the place some 30 years later, is debatable. The pub hasn’t changed. Not a bit. And it’s great to see that it has survived the tide of modernisation that swallowed up neighbouring pubs like the Yacht. It’s only concession to progress is the conversion of an upstairs room into a theatre space that now houses Viking Theatre.

pilgrimMy birthday week had kicked off in style the night before with dinner in Drumcondra and a visit to an old haunt from my NIHE days – the Cat and Cage – another pub that has survived the Celtic Tiger relatively intact. Friday night was earmarked for dinner in Moloughneys, a lovely eatery in Clontarf  village that does good food well. Then a nip around the corner into the Sheds for 75 minutes of excellent entertainment in the guise of Philip Doherty’s The Pilgrim Starring the sublime Rex Ryan (the late Gerry Ryan’s son – apparently he was named Rex because Gerry thought it would look good on a poster ), this one-man man show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen since Hilda Fay in My Name is Alice Devine.  

Billed as ‘an Irishman’s odyssey through a world set ablaze by 9/11’, it is brilliantly written and was even more brilliantly performed. Ryan plays Christy, a young lad from Dublin who is about to discover that the world doesn’t revolve around him. He also does justice to an old man with a powerful shower, various airport employees, locals, and even a pregnant woman (does anyone know why marigold gloves stuffed with ice cubes might be something a pregnant woman might want?)

His plane home to Ireland after five months in San Diego was diverted to Newfoundland for four days in the aftermath of 9/11. I’d never given much thought to the hundreds if not thousands of planes grounded that day in the USA – and the ‘plane people’ they carried. He gets drunk during their overnight on the plane and wakes up in a church. For a minute he thinks the Virgin Mary is appearing to him. You had to be there – it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

pilgrim2The various calls that go out for the likes of toilet paper and condoms as the locals struggle to cope with the influx of temporary refugees – what Doherty calls a ‘Noah’s Ark of nationalities’ and the various short-term relationships that spring up reflect societal interaction at its best.  Russian musicians entertain the masses with their version of a ‘Communist Céili’. And time passes marked with activity: ‘three beatings, two benders, and one fake apparition since I last had a shower’. The links between Ireland and Newfoundland are subtly woven with fishermen looking like ‘blight-ridden potatoes’ and Padre Pio morphing into Peadair.

Christy’s sex scene with Penny (his long-time friend, a woman, now pregnant with his child and in his mind heart-achingly classified as ‘just Penny’) was both graphic and beautiful and so quickly recounted that sensibilities didn’t have time to be offended. The drowning scene had me gasping for air as I watched enthralled, mesmerized at how one man could so vividly portray something so terrible. Rex Ryan is a man I’d travel to see on stage again. Philip Doherty’s manipulation of the English language has as me green with envy. Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks, The Pilgrim was at the 2014 Dublin Fringe and is heading to Edinburgh Fringe this month. If you’re going that way, be sure to put it on your must-see list. I wonder if there’s any way to get it to Budapest or whether it would travel?

I love birthday weeks. This one has started well and is shaping up to be a good one. As it trundles forward, I’m grateful for the many friends who have already shared it, and those who have yet to share it, and for the likes of Ryan and Doherty and Spillane-Hinks whose talent traverses boundaries and provides us lesser mortals with so much entertainment.