An old story told with great skill
Patrick Kavanagh’s only novel, Tarry Flynn, sums up the full extent of his literary production. He began writing it before his most famous work, The Great Hunger, but it was published after that poem’s success, and it contains all of his key themes in the coming-of-age tale, as the eponymous young farmer struggles against the repression of rural life. , the sublimation of sexuality to Catholic restrictions, and the suppression of the intellectual appetite in favor of physical labor. It’s a work firmly rooted in the post-colonial culture of 20th-century Ireland, but this staging of Livin’ Dred finds contemporary joy in wild and adventurous staging.
Director Aaron Monaghan tackles Conall Morrison’s surreal adaptation with an absolute commitment to his physical potential. An ensemble of eight actors morphs around the central figure of Tarry (Colin Campbell), shedding figures of animal and human variety against lighting designer Suzie Cummins’ vast projected sky. A chorus of chickens shares the opening narration, their clucks punctuating the narrative like the oohs and ahs of a chattering coterie might. Bryan Burroughs falls off a bench to reappear as Father Anthony. Seamus O’Rourke waddles onstage in yellow rubber as Mrs. Callan, flailing after her wandering ducks. The conspiracy of Helen Foy’s costumes with physical movement in the latter case adds richness and depth to a throwaway persona typical of this brilliantly crafted production, which pays concentrated attention to all the building blocks of theatricality.
Alas, not even the bustle and dance of bovine sex and the subsequent birth of a calf can make up for a story so rooted in its time and such a voluminous and hazy script. As the production enters its final third and the runtime exceeds 140 minutes, it becomes apparent that the narration here is superior to the story being told.
On tour: An Grianan, Letterkenny, April 6 and 7; Droichead Arts Centre, April 9 and 10