The play on the Abbey stage at the moment is not an Irish classic, it’s not Shakespeare, it’s not even a contemporary play by a well-known writer. It is however, a tremendous piece of theatre. It is a new Irish play but it’s set in the past, in the dark and desperate world of New York gangsters. It’s 1969, there’s about to be a man on the moon and there’s a truce unfolding between the Irish and the Italians.
The play starts with a wonderful monologue from Harvey Marr (Liam Carney) as he talks about his day. This Irish-American crook knows how to spin a yarn and this tale includes booze, women and violence. The story is directed at the silent Walter Sorrow who is only half-listening to Harvey’s ramblings as he goes about his work. This work is bloody and unpleasant, but as Harvey says it’s work and has to be done. This scene sets us up the rest of the play nicely – it neatly encapsulates the world we’ve entered; a world of brutal men who kill casually, often while telling a joke. Harvey isn’t a particularly likeable character, but you still feel for him.
Over the next 90 minutes, we meet gangsters who swagger and strut, a boss man who collects trees from all over Ireland and a silent teenager over from the old country, escaping the troubles in Belfast. Despite the grim and gritty world it is evoking, this is a very stylish production. The set is starkly beautiful and as the action moves rapidly from place to place, the scene changes have no problem keeping up. There’s a wonderful energy to the production which comes from the snappy dialogue and the talented cast. Despite this energy, despite the new world that is opening up to them, these guys are still stuck in the past. There are many references to Ireland and to Irish heritage and culture. They are a backwards looking community and they’re going nowhere fast. Like the versatile set that is used for many different locations, the characters expend a whole lot of energy but aren’t getting anywhere.
The play has a cinematic quality to it that works well most of the time. However this can be jarring when things happen that aren’t as realistic as it would be on screen. This means the violence and blood-shed often feels fake. The more theatrical moments work better because the audience are happy to go with them. It’s also a very male play which might put some people off just as much as the violence. There seems to be no place for women in this world and they are seldom mentioned by our all male cast.
Despite this, Drum Belly is a very enjoyable show. The script is sharp and has some great lines. The cast are very strong and the whole show looks fantastic. If you want to see for yourself, the Abbey are doing a deal at the moment where you can get €10 “Test Drive” tickets, Monday – Wednesday, subject to availability. It will be €10 well spent!
Drum Belly runs until May 11 and tickets (including €10 Test Drive tickets) are available here.
I have a complicated relationship with live art. I was exposed to a lot of it when I was studying Modern Drama, both recordings in class and what we were encouraged to go and see. The things we made often had a live art slant to them as well. I don’t always love it, I often really dislike it but I find it an intriguing genre because now and again, something will come along and blow my mind!
My most frequent complaint about live art is that it’s often more interesting for the artist than the audience. This usually involves durational performances or people cutting themselves or putting themselves in danger. I’m always coming at it from a theatre point-of-view so things that show a disregard for the audience really irritate me!
Live art is interesting because it can be so divisive. I’ve come out of a performance feeling irritated and annoyed that these people took my money and then wasted my time with this drivel, while someone else will rave ecstatically about the exact same piece. They will praise it so highly that I’m not sure how they could have possibly seen the same thing I did, even though they were standing next to me at the time.
It can irritate but it also intrigues me and the wonderful, perfect shows are always worth more because of the irritating pieces you sat though before. (And then I will walk out astonished and delighted by what I’ve seen while the person next to me to ready to ask for their money back.) This is all just a long way of saying that I’m looking forward to the <a href=”http://www.livecollision.com/” target=”_blank”>Live Collusion Festival</a> later this month. It’s been a while since I’ve sat through some truly odd things so I will attending a few shows and trying to work out how I feel about them. And if you’re going to see anything, let me know. It’s always better to go with a pal so you can argue afterwards about what you saw.
If you’d like to do more than just go and see shows, you can do a workshop with “live artist, show off, fat drag queen and attention seeker” Scottee which sounds really fun. The Scottee Workshop is on Thursday 18th April, 3-5pm and costs €20.
There is also a call for artists to take part in Walking:Holding. There is no fee but it is chance to work with artist Rosana Cade on this piece. You will need to have availability from April 16th – 20th. For more information or to register your interest, please contact Niamh McCann – mccann.niamh(at)gmail.com