BWW Review: GOING SPARE, Theatre Upstairs, Oct 2015

When the universe seems indifferent, it can help to have someone connect the dots, or celestial bodies that comprise your star sign. Left with few alternatives, Maisie - the reserved woman played by Siobhán Donnellan in her new drama - attends a psychics' convention, looking for meaning to be made of a life hit repeatedly by tragedy. Polite surfaces cover up fried nerves, preventing her from going spare.

Under Aoife Connolly's intelligent direction, Donnellan paints a guileless figure oblivious to the superficialities of the world while pursuing its desires: working in a sweet shop to introduce sherbet-coloured hues into a depressed reality; pottering with a childhood admirer, until his life comes to a devastating halt.

However, in stacking the odds against her protagonist, the script comes up astonishingly short. A secondary plotline concerning the death of Maisie's mother seems drawn to make a better bet for pathos but the relationship between the two isn't solidly developed. That Donnellan also takes to portraying a multitude of characters over chewed-up expressions - a furrow-faced shopkeeper; a husky-voiced gentleman whose sensitive nature is enshrined in the name 'Paper Chest' - could be more demonstrative than sincere. But for all her broad strokes, the performer wisely knows how to pull back; pausing to release a single tear, the consequences in her exaggerated world staggeringly become real.

That clarity is owed in part to Connolly, for whom a small stage doesn't stall a sophisticated mise en scène of constant illuminations (Sharon Bagnall's painstaking lighting), curious symbols (a lone psychic's chair and a cloud of feathers suspended in Katie Davenport's set design), and delicate music (Aisling Quinn's piano and glockenspiel).

Bereavement is a familiar theme for Donnellan; her 2010 play Chasing Butterflies saw two parents dealing with the shocking deaths of each of their children. Where there are no easy answers, Donnellan is committed to exploring the ways - outlandish or otherwise - in which we cope with the illogical and immeasurable. Light glows from behind the threshold of a low-hanging cloud as Maisie discovers a reminder of her fallen friend. Surely there are things more bizarre.

Run finished. Photo: Martin Magure.

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From This Author Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a theatre critic based in Dublin. He blogs on and writes for A Younger Theatre, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Arts (read more...)