Theatre for One at Cork Midsummer Festival offers an enjoyable new experience.
A booth outside Cork Opera House on Emmet Place hosts one-person plays, for an audience of one at a time. Each piece is about five-minutes long.
Admission is free, and no ticketing is required – just join the queue.
Imported to Ireland by Landmark Productions and Octopus Theatricals, the idea was originally conceived by American theatre-maker Christine Jones, who realised that this intimate one-on-one experience totally changed the dynamic from the usual public theatre performances.
Depending on your own pursuits, the booth may remind you of a confession box, or a peepshow. Jones researched both.
She finally got her Theatre For One built by Danny, the guy who had actually made many of the peepshow booths in Manhattan.
Inside the ergonomically-clever space, you're surrounded by the type of red velour fabrics Danny probably bought by the mile.
You sit in a surprisingly comfortable chair, and a partition slides back, bringing you face-to-face with the performer.
All six pieces were specially commissioned for this project. The plays are constantly rotating, so after seeing one, you exit and can queue again to see another.
Those involved include a sprinkling of Irish theatre world A-listers, with Derbhle Crotty starring in Mark O'Rowe's piece; and Sean McGinley appearing in Marina Carr's.
One of the two I saw was Bait, featuring the dream-team pairing of Eileen Walsh and Louise Lowe.
Cork native Walsh will be familiar as the mad friend Kate from Channel 4's Catastrophe, and numerous other roles.
Playwright Lowe is one of the principals of Anu in Dublin, a company renowned for their site-specific tales of Magdalene Laundries and inner-city life that shed light on worlds a long way from the middle-class milieu of Irish theatre.
The partition draws back, exposing a dishevelled Walsh, who immediately asks you for help zipping up the back of her dress.
Twenty seconds in and this is already a markedly different and more intense theatre experience.
With a flawless Dublin accent, and a naggin of vodka in hand, Walsh's character could have easily staggered in from one of Anu's previous plays.
She eyeballs you as she relates her sorry tale of struggle and abuse.
It's uncomfortable and affecting. As it's designed to be.
Enda Walsh's piece, Cave, also opts for the eye-to-eye approach, as emerging actor Frank Blake is the vehicle for an exploration of dark worlds and childhood fears.
Theatre for One by @LandmarkIreland for @CorkMidsummer is an astonishing experience - from convivial conversations in the queue to the most concentrated act of viewing. I was undone by @mumstrokesactor / Louise Lowe. pic.twitter.com/N1n8UsOBhR— Fiona Kearney (@fionakearney) June 18, 2019
Does it work?
Most definitely. The intimacy of the situation won't be everyone's cup of theatre, and not every piece can have Lowe/Walsh involved.
But even the most jaded attendees will probably emerge from the booth with that tingle of having had an experience.
This Irish – and European – debut of Theatre For One gives a sense that all concerned really are onto something.
The format obviously can't work economically on its own, and is highly dependent on grants and donations.
In terms of overall experience, however, it's a winner.