Dear Ireland – The Rock, Revisited

From April 28th – May 1st 2020 the Abbey Theatre broadcast fifty short monologues as an immediate response to COVID-19 and the first lockdown in Ireland.

The brief was simple, What should Ireland write on a postcard to itself? 

A whole year later, our newest group of Young Critics had the unique opportunity to revisit one of the pieces and watch it in isolation. Thanks to the generosity of the creators, the group had a private viewing of The Rock, written by Phillip McMahon and performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne.

We have a trio of short reviews from Anna Lynch,Evie Howard and Sarah Carolan for you to enjoy.

Image : Abbey Theatre

First up, Anna Lynch shares this review

The Rock by Phillip McMahon, part of the Dear Ireland project by the Abbey Theatre. Rating: ★★★★

The Rock poses to Ireland some uncomfortable questions, mainly how far have we as a society really come in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance?

Written by Phillip McMahon and part of Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project, The Rock is presented to us in the form of a video diary filmed by the only character. It’s recorded during a Covid-19 lockdown as a way of documenting the run-up to her wedding and to have as a keepsake for her future, but presently non-existent kids. We are privy to the troubles and turmoil the relationship between the character and her partner Carol have endured, see how internalised homophobia is still present in modern day Ireland and learn how important communication and co-operation are in relationships.

Caoilfhionn Dunne portrays the role of the angsty other half perfectly, capturing not only the essence of the lockdown madness, but also portraying the pressure of being a lesbian in Ireland. Taking into consideration the fact that the entire monologue is self-recorded and has no director, one has to applaud how smoothly the video runs.

The entire performance is intimate and personal, creating the illusion that the viewers are part of their lives. The script was outstanding, full of the Irish humour we all know and love. In particular, McMahon’s consistent references to rocks was extraordinarily clever when describing the feelings and thoughts of the character. It makes us think about how Irish views on the LGBTQ+ community and how indiscreet homophobia, even from loved ones, can have a profound impact on lives.

At times the monologue was perhaps spoken too fast, making it difficult to understand. However, overall, the short performance was excellent. This is definitely one to watch if you’re in the mood for some food for thought.

Anna is a member of Backstage Youth Theatre, Longford and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

Evie Howard writes:

In this witty and realistic account of lockdown life in Ireland, Phillip McMahon tells an engaging and thought provoking story of a Dublin woman struggling with tradition, family, and identity.
 
The Rock was written as part of the Dear Ireland project, an initiative run by the Abbey Theatre in order to keep theatre alive during a nationwide lockdown. The idea is simple; 50 pieces written by 50 playwrights which were then self-taped by 50 actors. All the pieces were written with one theme in mind; ‘what should Ireland write on a postcard to itself?’
 
This theme is one that Phillip McMahon pulls off particularly successfully, raising a number of talking points about Irish society. In The Rock, we watch as the main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) speaks directly into the camera in a way that feels very vulnerable and intimate. The piece is formatted as a video diary and we learn that she has proposed to her girlfriend and since revoked her proposal, telling a story of self-doubt and relationship troubles relatable to many. She also tells of problems with family, as she struggles to rebuild bridges with her homophobic mother. McMahon manages to pack a lot of information into the short few minutes of this piece of theatre while still keeping the dialogue natural, and Dunne makes a great performance, keeping consistent energy throughout.
 
As for negatives, of which there are few, the dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially for those unfamiliar with the Dublin accent, and the background is bland and can be distracting, but these issues are minor, and given The Rock was self-taped under unique circumstances, it can be forgiven. Overall, well worth the watch and I would recommend seeking it out should the opportunity to view it arise again.

Evie is a member of WACT Youth Theatre in County Wexford and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

Caoilfhionn Dunne Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Finally Sarah writes this review from April 30th.

The Rock- online performance for Dear Ireland- Abby theatre- written by Phillip McMahon- performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne

The rock is an insight into the stone cold society that we live in, with deep rooted beliefs that affect us more than we may think. A worthwhile watch that you, for sure, won’t take for granted.

The main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the camera about her experience of lockdown through the format of a video diary. She tells us about the societal pressure she feels in everyday life and gives us an insight to how she makes decisions that affect her. She proposed to her girlfriend, but questioned what marriage meant to her. She tells us about the strain on the relationship with her mother, who has never fully accepted her sexuality.

Overall it was an extremely well put together piece. The subtlety of Caoilfionn’s performance was impeccable, to the point where it felt natural, as if she was talking to us through the diary. I also think the online medium was used to its fullest potential. Being able to adapt a story to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and not feel out of place, is a huge skill.

The design was simple and didn’t distract from the piece, but I wonder if a more cluttered backdrop could have reflected on the obstacles the characters have overcome.

With that said, it carries an extremely important message, making you examine the importance of “social norms” in today’s society.

Sarah Carolan is a member of Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

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