There is a strong contingent of new writing from Ireland in the digital programme of the Edinburgh fringe. See a few in a row and the danger is that they all start reminding you of each other, and indeed of every other Irish play written as if they are snakes swallowing their own tails. On the other hand, it can also confer a kind of richness, as if Irish new writing is in a constant dialogue with itself in a way that is almost unique.
Deirdre Kinahan’s The Saviour and Claire Monnelly’s Charlie’s a Clepto (both Assembly Showcatcher) both remind of other more famous plays, but also feel of the here and now. Indeed, in The Saviour Kinahan has Maire (Marie Mullen), a woman celebrating her 67th birthday, carry the weight of Ireland’s history as we first meet her sitting up in bed and revelling in sexual pleasure. This is in itself an original enough idea to grab the attention. It’s a treat to see a sexually satisfied older woman on stage. The other surprise is that she chats to God as if he was right in the room beside her, sharing a fag and enjoying a cup of tea.
It’s a clever device, but nonetheless carrying the weight of Ireland’s history is burden for any character and with so much back story it’s only the arrival of Maire’s son, Mel (Brian Gleeson) that kicks the play into real life as it becomes clear that Maire’s fantasy relationship with God is a way of dealing with trauma, and it’s one that ill-equips her to deal with the changing realities of modern Ireland.
Mullin and Gleeson are both immensely watchable, and at the play’s heart there is a golden nugget examining why the abused –whether individuals or indeed countries--so often turn abuser themselves. But this feels a little over-stuffed with themes, from religiosity to the Magdalene laundries to changing attitudes to gay relationships to emigration, as if Kinahan felt she had to get everything into a single play. Less might have been more.
Charlie’s a Clepto
With its alternative take on Ulysses, Charlie’s a Clepto definitely reminds of Mark O’ Rowe’s Howie the Rookie. But it has a zest and vigour all of its own as Charlie, whose route from Little Miss Sunshine to Little Miss Trouble began when she lost a school spelling bee by mistakenly spelling Kleptomaniac with a C, tries to get through a day and regain the custody of her child. But nobody, least of all her feckless Da, is going to help her, and Charlie anger management issues don’t help.
Like The Saviour, this monologue reflects a changing Irish society, but it has a vividness and immediacy about it that is enormously enjoyable and there is a tightness in the layered and deceptively simple storytelling. Playing her own creation, Monnelly bites down on the language she has written with evident delight and a light touch. Smart stuff in every way.
Cover image from The Saviour