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Review: BECKETT IN THE CITY - The Women Speak

Poised for redevelopment, the historical environs of Halla Banba become a pertinent site questioning past and future in the latest chapter of Company SJ's Beckett in the City series. For director Sarah Jane Scaife to shoot the seething English utterances of Not I through the wall of the former Coláiste Mhuire, previously base of the Gaelic League, is to do more than desecrate grounds that once belonged to the Revival. Overtly staged against Article 4.1, enshrining the woman's "duties" in the home, The Women Speak achingly articulates the ramshackle body of the female in nationalist Ireland.

"... out ... into this world ... tiny little girl ...". New forsaken life is ushered in by a speaker's mouth poking through a wall, illuminated by a single beam. Brid Ní Neachtain's rapid delivery rises and falls in distressed waves while the rest of her body is stolen from sight, as per Beckett's stage directions. "God is love", a ready refrain, carries the echo of a Magdalene prisoner.

Elsewhere, promises of fulfillment appear tragically dashed as Michèle Forbes performs Footfalls in the vast emptiness of an old Georgian ballroom. Between faint steps on a strip of light, a woman carries on a conversation with the voice of her mother, her nightdress trailing long after her. Forbes carries a fraught figure living a marginalised existence in her mother's questioning: "Will you never have done revolving it all?". John Comiskey's elegant lighting rises and falls on a life without ceremony, until it vanishes.

Similarly, the back and forth of a rocking chair in Rockaby evokes that Beckettian paradox: "I must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on". In Joan Davies's control, it seems to move on its own accord. An old woman remains still as a recorded voice details her retreat from the world, her final moments towards death prolonged by weak requests to hear "More".

That all these calamities run into Come and Go, a choreographed drama about three gossipy women on a bench, brings new consequence. The reveal of Sinead Cuthbert's costumes is breathtaking, interpreting Beckett's colourful coats in the fashion of older generations today. The exteriors are noticeably tough here, the characters' personalities conservative as if each whispered secret is stored for cruel design. These are individuals made hardened, imaginably pitted against each other by a misogynistic society.

"I can feel the rings" claims one of them at the end, though according to Beckett's instructions none are apparent. Yet there are circular lines in Scaife's haunting production: those repeated tragedies of Ireland's women, still revolving today.

Beckett in the City: The Women Speak runs at Halla Banba, Parnel Square as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until 20 Sept. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website. Photo: Kilian Waters.

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From This Author - Chris McCormack