Tag Archives: Caoilfhionn Dunne

“Suzy Storck” from the Gate Theatre

It’s never comfortable to fall back on critical clichés, especially when a show is kindly offered during current circumstances, but one is applicable to this production. Although its merits are clear, Magali Mougel’s play, rendered into English by Chris Campbell, is surely lost in translation.

As the titular character struggles with her claustrophobic life – and three children she never wanted to have – there’s a strong tension between post-natal depression and, well, depression full stop. Such a bold look at the expectations and “obligations” women face is bracing. The outcome is not for the faint of heart. And, if the plot is simple, the play’s structure enlivens it enough.

The title role provides a strong part for Caoilfhionn Dunne, who grabs it for its considerable worth and doesn’t allow excuses for her character’s actions. While the role of her husband is less well written, Jonah Russell makes him intriguing. Director Jean-Pierre Baro has clearly worked hard on the scenes of the couple together and these provide highlights.

It’s with two accompanying characters that cracks start to show. Kate Duchêne gets the chance to shine when she performs as Suzy’s infuriated and vicious mother, Madame Storck. But when Duchêne also narrates, and is joined in this task by Theo Solomon, the play’s style starts to grate. Although both Duchêne and Solomon have a strong stage presence, it isn’t clear what these roles add.

Baro’s production has atmosphere (aided by some strong lighting design from Christopher Nairne) and there’s a great moment where the audience helps clear up kids’ toys. But Mougel’s obsession with routine, reflected in quantifying action and an interesting take on muscle memory, leads to too much repetition. The only scene with any humour is of a job interview (another small role that Duchêne does well with), and the constant use of the characters’ full names seems a puzzling affectation. The strange staccato delivery of some lines, presumably also linked to an obsession with repetition, is arresting but again overused and effortful. Suzie Storck ends up intense but also, painfully, self-conscious.

Until 30 June 2020


“Our Country’s Good” at the National Theatre

An undisputed modern classic, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play explores politics, power and the potential of theatre. Its setting is an 18th-century Australian penal colony, its performers, newly arrived convicts who stage a play. It is a text to spend time with and Nadia Fall’s revival presents the ideas with great clarity. But it should also be a work that entertains and invigorates, and, here, this production lacks consistency.

The show looks great, with Peter McKintosh’s design a mix of Aboriginal art and Anish Kapoor, creating a sense of heat and tension. But this show is a cold affair, distinctly lacking humour and failing to exploit the text’s many ironies. Fall’s pacing slows and rushes – possibly because so much music is introduced. Cerys Matthews, making her theatrical debut as a composer, creates a diverse soundscape with snatches of songs you never hear enough of to enjoy.

There are credible performances from the lead: Jason Hughes plays the soldier tasked with directing the convicts and Caoilfhionn Dunne is the prisoner who becomes his leading lady. It’s a shame there isn’t more sexual tension between their characters – an element missing throughout the show which could have added considerable drama.

Productions often have actors doubling up roles to perform as both guard and prisoner – Fall has a larger crew but the play doesn’t benefit from bigger numbers. Disappointingly, with some of the cast, there is a sense of fighting for attention that should have been checked. The actors that do stand out give the most generous and controlled performances: Ashley McGuire’s down-to-earth Dabby Bryant and Peter Forbes’ bullish Major.

The later acts are better; the violence in the colony is bravely depicted and that raises the stakes. But what might have countered this brutality – camaraderie between the players and what little joy their common humanity affords them – isn’t given its proper place. That the show goes on and the prisoners perform doesn’t leave us as elated as it should.

Until 1 October 2015


Photo by Simon Annand