Review: PRIME CUT FESTIVAL at Solas Nua

Digital Theatre Festival showcases contemporary work from Northern Ireland

Kennedy Center GUYS AND DOLLS, Kevin Chamberlin, And More Win Helen Hayes AwardsThrough all of the ups and downs, ins and outs, of the past year and a half, few things have remained consistent. Thankfully, one of those things is Solas Nua's commitment to bringing Irish contemporary art to the DC area (and beyond these days) in ever new and intriguing ways. This month, they partnered with Prime Cut Productions in Belfast to bring virtual audiences a four-production theatre festival, running online from November 18-21, 2021. All four shows are US premieres and this festival marks the first North American showcase of Prime Cut's award-winning theatre company.


written by Gilly Campbell / directed by Emma Jordan

This debut play by Gilly Campbell is the only one of the four that was specifically envisioned for the screen. Performed brilliantly by Abigail McGibbon, 'Father the Father' is the story of Campbell's own search for her biological father and family identity. The play begins with a stark background and an industrial sound design. The only spot of color is McGibbon's red top, popping out from the shades of grey around her. It is an almost utilitarian nod, but as this story unfolds, it becomes an inspired choice. As a child, she speaks of shame, but also of happiness, particularly in her relationship with her grandfather. The presentation is melodic, almost spoken word like in its lyricism, a strong contrast to the more mechanical sounds lurking beneath. With adulthood comes more questions, more complications, more nuances and the visuals become fractured, more jarring, in answer. More color begins to bleed into the scene. Voiceovers, like the whispers of ghosts, compete with one another and with McGibbon, an auditory expression of the push-and-pull in her own mind. "Are we really bound by nothingness?" she asks. Or is the truth closer than ever imagined? "The closer I get to you, the more I become you." (Run time: 47 minutes)


written by Michael Patrick & Oisín Kearney / directed by Oisín Kearney

In a very different story, Michael Patrick provides a hilarious and touching portrait of another teen growing up without a father while dealing with the trials of secondary school life - mates, girls, too many siblings, a single mam, and an ever increasing testicle. Filmed as part of 2020's Shedinburgh Festival, Patrick takes us back to the days of Sega, Limewire, and "wassssup" through a series of outrageous reenactments and impersonations, all while barely leaving his seat. He hints at the political situation swirling around this tale with references to the Good Friday Agreement, the Omagh bombing, the physical and ideological divisions within Belfast itself, but the piece is, at its heart, a universal story of angst and adolescence. Through confronting his own mortality, Patrick begins to process his father's death several years earlier and deepens his relationship with his mother. The frenetic pace of this piece leaves the audience somewhat breathless at moments, but it always allows the space to peek at the vulnerability and fear just beneath the surface. (Run time: 48 minutes)


written by Fionnuala Kennedy / directed by Emma Jordan

While the first two plays are true stories, the next piece is a fictionalized account of a young boy's journey through the Care system and is based on interviews with those who had experienced it. Adam's father has also died and his mother has turned to alcohol, forcing him and his younger brother, Joseph, into the foster system. Between the leather couch setting and Conor O'Donnell's forthright delivery, this piece reads as more of a therapy session than a performance, making it quite the departure from 'My Left Nut', but not as deeply introspective as 'Father the Father'. This story is told very matter-of-factly, at times with humor and at others with aggression and confrontation. O'Donnell portrays Adam as torn apart by the situation and the system, missing his mother yet enjoying the luxuries of his first placement or coveting the freedom that eighteen brings while terrified of finally doing for himself truly. Within the system, Adam begins to form his own moral code and survival instinct. While the script is full of comprehensive descriptions and scene-setting, Adam's story is not unique. It is the story of so many, which is beautifully illustrated in its final moments. (Run time: 44 minutes)


written by Fintan Brady / directed by Emma Jordan

Davy is our tour guide, showing off HIS town, in this visceral production that is a feast for eyes and ears alike. He has no time or give for what others think of him, or this place. "It is what it is," he says, capturing its complications in a straightforward and simple way. "Its hard to say what it is." Portrayed in body by dancer Ryan O'Neill, and voiced by Terence Keeley, Davy carries himself with a fluidity that belies the demands on him, especially those of being a new dad. The pumping music throughout is a perfect complement to the verse he shares with the audience. Elemental visuals of water and fire bookend this piece, providing a grounding effect to the more heady moments. (Run time: 30 minutes)

Each of these individual pieces gives a unique and enlightening glimpse into life in Northern Ireland, but taken as a whole, they weave a fuller narrative, as alike as they are different. The drum beat of conflict runs throughout, but also a thread of utter humanity and, at times, the total ordinariness of growing up. These portraits are essential viewing for North American audiences, who often have a very specific idea of life in Northern Ireland in their heads. At a time of renewed spotlight on the politics of Northern Ireland, that this community of groundbreaking artists is not better known is a testament to the urgency of this work.

In addition to the four theatrical productions, this festival includes a free panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities for creating contemporary art in Northern Ireland, featuring Emma Jordan, Artistic Director for Prime Cut Productions, Anne McReynolds, Chief Executive at The Mac in Belfast, and Ciaran Bagnall, international designer and Associate Artist with Prime Cut Productions. The panel will be moderated by Belfast-native and theatre director, Matt Torney.

Solas Nua's Prime Cut Festival runs on-demand from November 18-21, 2021. Single show tickets may be purchased for $15 each; an all-festival pass is available for $50. Free tickets for the panel discussion are available through Eventbrite. For more information and to book tickets, visit The festival is sponsored by The Northern Ireland Bureau.

Additional coverage of Solas Nua's Prime Cut Festival: /washington-dc/article/New-Digital-Theater-Festival-Creates-a-Platform-for-Irish-Artists-in-America-20211112


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