“I fucking hate Pineapple.” Clutching sickly-yellow Bacardi breezers, two teenage girls swing idly off the iron bars of a busted-out window frame, chatting about sex, the ways of fellas, and the idiocy of schoolteachers. Describing her exploits to her pixie-like friend Steph (Genevieve Hulme Beamen), Roxanna (Jane McGrath) bristles with defensive energy and confused hormones, whipping round her ponytail. Just back from a “procedure” after an unwanted pregnancy, she’s determined to prove how unfazed she is, but beneath the prickly exterior, it’s clear she’s frightened and yearning for tenderness. The pineapple flavour may not be to her taste, but it’s an apt emblem for the women of the play, hiding sweet cores behind defenses that can barely keep out the hurt they’ve suffered.
This revival of Philip McMahon’s play Pineapple, as produced by Calipo Theatre Company and the Drogheda Arts Festival, was selected as part of the ReViewed strand at the Dublin Theatre Festival, which presents successful Irish work to Festival audiences.
One of Calipo’s stated missions is to produce contemporary work that targets young audiences and to facilitate youth outreach, and this play treats the lives of teenage girls and women in the Ballymun tower blocks without condescension, rendering their anxieties, confusion, spiky wit, and fierce ties in vibrant language seething with local vernacular.
Roxanna’s older sister Paula (Caoilfhionn Dunne) is the heart of the play, a single mother trying to raise her boys safe and keep her sister from the same path. As played by Dunne, Paula is all taut containment, arms crossed tight across a lean body, sparing little, reluctant to bare her heart to a romantic newcomer, Dan (Adam Fergus) despite all the force of his affable persuasion. She holds on to herself as fiercely as she tries to tether Roxanna, to keep from being blown away.
While the chemistry between Dan and Paula is not wholly convincing, the risk of their relationship for Paula, who feels compelled to choose between “blood” and love, and who is wary of men, after one too many entanglements with bastards on the make, is more than tangible. One of the play’s strengths is that after teasingly suggesting Paula’s only chance of happiness may arrive via the love of a new man it refuses to make such an easy equation.
Instead, what emerges as the most meaningful aspect of the characters’ lives is love between women: between friends, family, and neighbours. The tower block is in grim disrepair—wallpaper black with damp curls off the walls of Kieran McNulty’s set, a fake leather couch is askew on a broken leg, the glass in the windows is cracked. Paula slags off an unseen upstairs neighbour as often as she responds to her call, and fights with her friend Antoinette (played with boisterous charm by Neili Conroy) as much as she consoles her. Privacy seems at a premium, as neighbours shout and burst through each other’s flats. Yet the block is also a community, offering support and solidarity and laughter. With the regeneration of Ballymun, one by one the neighbours are slipping away and moving out, and it is this slow fracturing of bonds which is felt as the most painful at the conclusion.