The Small Things by Enda Walsh gets a big production at Cork's Old Waterworks, writes Ellie O'Byrne.
Can words and memories conquer death?
Written from a place of deep grief following the death of his father, Enda Walsh’s The Small Things is, according to the playwright, still a personal favourite. First performed in 2005, the play is, he says “an ode to language, to talking” in the face of the inexorable encroachment of death, represented in the script by the spread of a brutal regime of silence and order.
In Corcadorca’s new production, Peter Gowen and Pauline McLynn are the play’s aged characters, locked in what’s less a dialogue than two interlocking monologues, for reasons which unfold as the narrative descends into horror.
Pauline McLynn is outstanding: buoyed up with girlish optimism at times, dropping f-bombs with conviction at others, an actress who only ever seems to continue to expand and cement her expressive range.
Peter Gowen too was both moving and funny, his reminiscences about his mother’s breasts and childhood erections eliciting genuine laughs from the audience.
Walsh and Corcadorca director Pat Kiernan launched their careers in Cork with Disco Pigs nearly 20 years ago, before spiralling off on different trajectories and reuniting two years ago for The Same, at Cork Prison.
The Small Things is another happy creative homecoming for Walsh’s talents; there’s a persistent spark of potential for genius to the two men’s collaborations and Kiernan worked well with Walsh’s wise, human and defiantly optimistic script.
However, despite the beauty of the outdoor section of the Lee Road’s Old Waterworks as a setting, it seemed unnecessary for a play which wasn’t written as a site-specific piece.
The only factor that lends itself to choosing an exterior setting rather than allowing the audience the comfort of a theatre is topographical: the old man and woman inhabit houses facing each other atop two mountains.
The flat terrain of the Waterworks space felt like an aside. The weatherproofing of the production’s electrical elements, wrapped in clear plastic that caught the light and littered the otherwise lovely minimalist set, was also a distraction.
There were, however, the same rewards for the audience that a Corcadorca production usually brings. McLynn, uplit by neon striplighting, turning to the rising moon to deliver some of her most important lines, aptly timed ambulance sirens from the city as the play reached peak horror, and echoes in the actors’ words of their surrounds: Peter Cowen gesturing towards the sounds of the Lee as he describes a scene by a river, even an acknowledgment for the cameo role of the midges and moths.
Attendees should wrap-up well for a 70-minute play that begins at 10.30pm. Then strap yourself in for a descent into darkness, in more ways than one.