Almost everything, from beer to poetry, seems to rest under the patronage of Ireland’s Brigid. The Celtic goddess – now worshipped as a Christian saint – is a source of comfort throughout Tara Flynn’s new play with songs, woven from personal history. Among her myriad responsibilities, Brigid is also a champion of midwifery.
In this lively comedy, presented by THISISPOPBABY and the Abbey Theatre, we find Flynn at arrivals in an airport, cartoonishly greeting us in Irish: “Céad míle fáilte” (“One hundred thousand welcomes”). But director Phillip McMahon’s production is drawn to the hypocrisy of such geniality. In one of Alma Kelliher’s jabbering piano ballads, Flynn reminds us of the country’s dark past – Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools. “You won’t find that in a postcard,” she says.
Flynn’s script paints a refreshingly honest and comedic portrayal of unplanned pregnancy. At one point she’s hot with desire for a beau, but glamorous sex – aboard a bean bag – disappoints. The embarrassing ritual to summon the morning after pill involves an uncomfortable consultation with a pharmacist. “We’re off to the shame room,” she cracks.
After Flynn realises the contraception failed to work, it’s clear that in a country like Ireland, where abortion is illegal and women treated with suspicion, a journey abroad to access services can feel clandestine. But it can also make for surprising satire. Flynn, transforming into a spy ready for a mission, is as cool-headed and British as Emma Peel.
There’s undeniable stoicism in McMahon’s production, with its painstaking lighting charting both a physical and emotional journey towards a difficult decision. It counts on Kelliher’s music for fire. One song lampoons Catholic nuns and their outlandish sex education. Another shouts with rage at the witch-hunting of exceptional women throughout the years. These fast piano-tapped melodies don’t advance plot or character, but they’re definitely scathing.
That’s the kind of anger befitting a subversive cabaret, which, judging by a stylish geometric set, seems to be the production’s aim, but this isn’t fully realised. In performance, Flynn is immensely charming and rarely without a punchline, but her parodies often grind to a halt, giving way to vague passages about ideology and Catholicism. The production’s strengths become muddled.
What is clear is the play’s ache for empathy. In its most affecting moment, Flynn, alone in a Dutch clinic, weighs up an arduous but necessary decision. An audience, no less than a Celtic goddess, may have got her back.
Not a Funny Word is at The Complex, Dublin, until March 10th. For more details, click here.