Suppose something is the case before the fact. For example, when lights rise on BrokenCrow Theatre’s new production and reveal half the cast dressed as old women in grey wigs, colourful shawls and coats. Having actors play way beyond their years is rarely satisfying, and questionable if they’re playing for laughs.
But presumption is the name of the game in this spry adaptation of two short stories by Kevin Barry, a novelist drawing a savage vision of Ireland. Ernestine and Kit presents two women in their seventies driving through County Sligo imagining the immoral lives of the locals, while in The Wintersongs a chattering woman delivers an unsettling revelation to a shy girl sitting across from her.
The adaptation by Rosie O Regan has cleverly realised the potential of putting these stories side-by-side rather than in succession. Fluidly staged by director Eadoin O Donoghue in the traverse, both narratives switch back and forth, as if each holds a key to the other.
On first appearance, O Regan and Aideen Wylde’s Ernestine and Kit could be mistaken as leads from a buddy comedy, going on a driving adventure to escape the humdrum of their sheltered existence (a perpetual weather forecast is broadcasted through Chris Schmit-Martin’s scrupulous sound design). But in the Kafkaesque landscape designed by Deirdre Dwyer – a space between a home, a snooker hall, and a tyre yard – under surveillance by a band of lawless figures wearing crow masks (the deft team of Damien Punch, Noelle Regan and Karen Kelleher), darker forces seem at work. Before long, our two misfits, shockingly, make the stage an open floor for spouting vulgar judgements on people’s social and ethnic backgrounds, while daring to commit an unimaginable crime.
A bigot tolerating no one’s views but their own might be better served by talking to a wall. Or a mannequin, as the case is in The Wintersongs. The inspired casting of a dummy in the role of the quiet girl accentuates the one-way conversation led by the sermonizing Old Lady, who, in George Hanover’s excellent control, crudely recounts grim stories such as a man’s disfiguration to qualify for the army, and a gambling addict’s run-in with her debt collectors. In the intensity of designer Rob Moloney’s spotlight, she leans in to share wisdom as if a terrifying secret: “What if I told you I know how it all plays out?”.
That reveals the complexity of a sly and surreal production in which BrokenCrow, a wickedly good company, take on bigotry and presumptions about the elderly as a conservative generation. In the stirring final moments, we’re reminded of our own susceptibility to change, to shift and warp at every turn in this brutal existence.
Dark Kingdom is on until 26th June 2016. Click here for more information.