Reviews Dublin Published 12 January 2017

Review: Half Light at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Smock Alley Theatre ⋄ 10 - 14 January 2017

On a mission to rescue Dad: Chris McCormack reviews Bombinate Theatre’s children’s show about mental illness, as part of the First Fortnight Festival.

Chris McCormack
Half Light at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Dara Ó Cairbre.

Half Light at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Dara Ó Cairbre.

How do you explain depression to a child? It’s a sensitive undertaking for Bombinate Theatre’s smart debut, a family-friendly play with songs, now thoughtfully programmed as part of the mental health arts festival, First Fortnight.

Young Robin (Fionn Foley) excitedly tells us about his father, a maker of picture books. Dad, we learn, unfailingly reads him to sleep every night. When the routine comes to a halt, it dawns on Robin, no less than the audience, that the parent is not quite himself.

This beguiling play, conceived by its many creators, neatly suspects a reality where knowledge of mental illness is withheld from a child. Robin’s resolve is facile but valiant: to proceed as if he were a hero in a story. Getting sucked into a fantastical world not unlike one of his father’s creations, he sets out on a mission to rescue Dad. The evil monster who kidnapped him, of course, is complicated.

True to the title, grim circumstances are balanced with an encouraging lightness. A musically talented ensemble (Juliette Crosbie, Richard Durning, Martha Grant and Kerill Kelly), equipped with an endless supply of devices, provides playful sound effects and folky riffs to drive Robin’s quest. From a grotesque tavern of mutilated individuals (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil), we move through a strange party where passions run high, and finally onto a snow-covered summit haunted by ghosts.

Foley’s Robin combines boyish enthusiasm with a sly wink that captivates all camps in the audience, child and adult alike. At a party, he pines with wisdom beyond his years: “It’s hard – feeling alone in a crowd.”

The Pixar-style touches of director Mollie Molumby’s staging also charm. However, there’s a danger of letting that watercolour artifice come at the expense of plot. Where, for instance, does a crow’s song (sweetly sung by Juliette Crosbie) fit into things? And what’s gained from the bizarre party scene, other than allowing for a parody song of That’s Amore?

It regains its course, thankfully, towards the end. A mist rolls over the pine trees that adorn Ursula McGinn’s set, leaving the stage lit only by Robin’s handheld lantern. Lost, Foley and cast sings a song voicing a child’s painful observations of their withdrawn father: “I watched you speak, then you disappear / A cold frontier.”

By spelling out depression in storybook terms, Bombinate’s approach could seem simplistic. The ‘monster’, however, is revealed to be more complex that Robin imagined. But it’s hard to deny an enduring hope from Dad when we finally reach him.

“I was always here”.

Half Light is on until 14th January 2017 at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Half Light at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin Show Info


Produced by Bombinate Theatre, in association with First Fortnight Festival

Directed by Mollie Molumby

Written by Mollie Molumby, Colm Summers, Camille Oswald, Martha Grant, Kerill Kelly, Richard Durning, Tilly Taylor, Ursula McGinn

Cast includes Juliette Crosbie, Richard Durning, Martha Grant, Kerill Kelly, Fionn Foley

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