“This is a true story.”
Sink or Swim written by Jonathan M. Daley, enjoyed a three day run in Accidental Theatre, Belfast from the 22-24th March. The show was produced as the inaugural venture by Headrush, Ireland, a newly forged group of creatives that have set up a spring board to create ripples through the theatre scene in Ireland (and beyond!).
Walking into compact confines of Accidental Theatre (having only been to a poetry book launch there prior to this show), I did have some reservations as to how the space would be optimally used for a full length, with two large pillars opposing where stage lights may shine. Irregardless of the limitations, this production made ample use of the space, and frankly surpassed what I thought imaginable in the space itself.
This production company most strikingly have placed themselves on the Irish map for the quintessential element, production value (among the variety of shows I’ve seen over the past few years, across the island). From the detail of set design, intricate props, practicals, rotating set pieces, varying sound sources, Sink or Swim presented a slick, non-stop 70 minutes. I daresay that for a production to be as striking as it can be, this responsibility can’t be shirked entirely onto an actor, conversely this cannot be pushed onto the firework brilliance of a tech team. There is certainly a collaborative sense in this production.
All this said and not even yet considering the portrayal of Cara Fitzgerald by Julie Lamberton. A daunting task indeed to be thrust into a multi-roling one woman show; & Lamberton handled this with aplomb. A concern of any one-actor-show is the show, largely, leaches a large degree of its energy from its sole actor. Lamberton dominates the stage in a variety of personas (largely as Cara, obviously) in what must have been an exhausting rehearsal process of different accents, physicalities etc. From the seedy, sexually threatening Séamus, her home-boy love interest Enda to the high-maintenance (but hilarious) Jennifer.
Indeed a testament to both the writing and acting: this kind of show, writing and acting teeters a fine tight rope between just-right characterisation and semi-offensive caricatures. Fortunately, there was just enough and not too much of Ms. Donellys, Endas, Jennifer’s, etc.
NB: Lamberton playing Ms. Donnelly. (we all know at least 3)
A point of genuine intrigue about Daley’s writing, personally, is his portrayal and evocation of rural Irish life. Being an Englishman who has studied and trained in the North of Ireland, I personally didn’t find once that this show (along with Jonny’s other shows he’s produced) never pealed with a sense of Irish exoticism or made use of tropes or stereotypes. Even in the minute characters of this production, there’s a creative flick more than ‘the granny from down the road who smokes too much’. This was typified for me in the (I felt) ingenuous use of a distorted microphone: this distorted the pitch and quantity of Lamberton’s voice, echoing painfully into the most silent parts of the show. ‘Did you hear about Cara?’ ‘No…what?’ Segments where the denizens of Ballyarby discuss Cara became both rather unsettling, and in the next, terribly reminiscent of small town Irish life. Both in its vernacular and subtleties, the script felt more than just a pursuit of fame and of celebrity.
Indeed, the play is at its most successful when its grounded in Ballyarby. I found the middle segment where Cara voyages briefly to London lost a force (fortunately this portion lasts brief enough to not slow down the oeuvre of the entire show) or a semblance of energy; I wonder was this short journey almost necessary when the stakes always really rested, for Cara, in Ballyarby. A terribly promising notion, that a group of creatives are able to reinvigorate a done-and-done-again narrative, small town Irish life, and revitalise this with a force that made me need to adjust my glasses.
NB: In a Carrie-esque moment, Cara covers herself in blood. Whose blood?
In short, this was a bloody (ha) brilliant show, certainly one that in no way demonstrated the occasional leaky hull points of a first production of any company. I have plentiful enthusiasm to see what this company comes to in a next project. On the reverse of my program, I discover, come Cara’s final ‘Thank you for watching’, that Daley’s script We Like It Here, directed by the brilliant Emily Foran is coming to a theatre near you (if Belfast is near you) in Summer 2018. Much to look forward to, and if this maiden voyage is anything to go by, we haven’t even scratched the figurative surface of these folks’ potential. Till the next one!