A ragged man, accompanied only by his dog, seeks out a quiet place to have a drink. A woman tiptoes around her mother with dementia to arrange a place in a care home. A penniless young man on the dole, lost in the endless scroll of Grindr and porn, is looking for sex. And an overwhelmed mother of small children, sleepless, goes looking for antidepressants. You definitely can’t blame Tracy Martin’s thoughtful new play for Red Bear Productions for taking on too little.
Martin draws four pictures of isolation in small town Ireland, where assisting services are unable to meet demand. Depressed Anne Marie (Aoibheann McCann), given the run-around by her doctor’s receptionist, is sent to the hellish queues at A&E. Carol (Camille Lucy Ross) hears the judgemental tone of the local police when she reports that her mother has gone missing again. Neither of them get the aid they really need.
Meanwhile, two downcast figures failed by the state in different respects – Gerry (Donncha Dea), an alcoholic, and jobseeker Karl (Gordon Quigley) – pursue each other in search of connection. Shockingly, their game of cat and mouse takes a dark turn.
There’s a lot of energy put into the overall picture but what about the individual arcs? At one point, McCann’s Anne Marie stops in her tracks because she forgot to take the buggy out of the car. Dea’s Gerry loses his cool when a fly lands in his drink, and Quigley’s Karl is frustrated when he can’t find good porn. As methods for building tension go, these are quite under-powering. Those obstacles are even more infuriating when you consider some characters’ final straws: making a convoluted journey to a pharmacy only to discover the prescription is sitting at home, or receiving confirmation that a man likes you but not having credit to text them back. Martin, obsessed with bringing her characters to the edge, can’t quite push them.
Instead, they literally drift, wandering aimlessly against a high-definition screen displaying a dark shoreline as part of Ciara Murnane’s set. The staging is similarly sapped by its stop-start form, ambitious interweaving of four monologues and Martin’s purple prose (“Blackness of my pupils fall down my face,” utters Anne Marie but you’d prefer if McCann was left to show it). Ornate detail, summoning never-ending vistas of town and seashore, often comes at the expense of sparky dialogue and dynamic action.
It is, finally, a portrait of community support for the unanchored. But despite the ebb and flow of the tide in Fiona Sheil’s hypnotic sound design, this well-meaning production lacks any pull.
Coast is on until 24th September 2016 at Project Arts Centre. Click here for more details.