Terminus is a fully-imported play. The 2011 equivalent of last year’s benchmark August: Osage County. Apparently, Cate ‘n’ Drew discussed mounting a production of their own, but decided discretion the better part of valour when it came to interpreting the very particular, intrinsically Irish writing style of Mark O’Rowe, who shows himself to be no less than a 21st-century Shakespeare, with a penchant for fearless, forthright, poetic word-pictures akin to the biting barbs of the original. Then again, there’s something of Dylan Thomas in O’Rowe’s sometimes measured, but otherwise relentless, urgent cadence:
“We go, see the slo-mo ebb and flow; the mill, the babble, the rabble of wobbling waywards, exiled and aimless, unlike us as, purposeful and double-file, like kids on a dare, we head who the hell knows where?”
Surely there are echoes of “spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and thehunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea”.
This Abbey Theatre/Amharclann Na Mainistreach (go for your life, if you can pronounce it) co-production is also directed by the writer; designed, brilliantly, by Philip Gladwell, who reflects the fractured, hyper-real anecdotes primarily by way of Jon Bausor’s stark lighting and Philip Stewart’s dramatic sound, augmented by shards of mirror.
Above all, three flawless actors strut their incredible stuff: Declan Conlon, Olwen Fouéré and Catherine Walker give no quarter to any thespian, living or dead. Every line and gesture is nuanced and nary a slip-up occurs, despite the dense script and demanding presentations. Conlon becomes the devil incarnate, just as Fouere is, utterly, a working mother turned vigilante (necessity her mother, apparently) and Walker, a desperate, dateless loner, who becomes a femme fatale of a different kind.
This is a Dublin night to remember, pregnant with the colour, violence and intensity for which that great city is renowned. O’Rowe takes it, and us, right onto the mean streets; but his view, on the ground, is always tempered by an awareness of the freedom of the starry skies above, the very same blanket of stars Wilde could see from the gutter. Brutal, bruising and uncompromising, three characters weave their torturous, tormented tales, thread by thread, into a single tapestry. (Six degrees, and all that.)
It is, like so much contemporary Irish theatre, built primarily on monologue, in which, to my mind, there is an intrinsically deep note of drama. The performances mean one can suspend disbelief and happily surrender to the ebb and flow, the sweeping tide of action and emotion: when it’s this good, one’s prepared to believe anything, no matter how far-fetched. It’s a kind of uber-Grimm adult fairytale, a dark meandering, a Jungian excursion, but laced with more arsenic-tinged humour than the good doctor’s writings.
Perhaps the last word should go to the inimitable John Doyle, who I overheard saying to Jenny Brockie, in the Drama Theatre’s foyer, “the reason, of course, the Irish have attained such mastery of the English language is they spent so long trying to destroy it; James Joyce gave it a fucking good try”.
The details: Terminus is at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until July 9. Tickets on the company website.