Irene Kelleher, Mary McEvoy and Áine Ryan in Desolate Heaven.

Theatre: Desolate Heaven
Everyman, Cork

“Enjoy your freedom, girls, and all it brings you,” says Laoise, one of three characters, independent women, played by Mary McEvoy in Desolate Heaven. Laoise is addressing two teenage girls who have run away from home, over-burdened by unwell parents. With her masculine gait and mannerisms, Orlaith (Irene Kelleher) is the leader, the butch girl. Sive (Áine Ryan) is the naive one.

The girls in Ailís Ní Riain’s play, which is directed by Tony McCleane-Fay, are on an adventure. Sive is nervous. But such is the strength of Orlaith’s personality, and her promise to take her companion away from drudgery, that Sive becomes more hopeful. She says someone must be looking after them, because of all their luck on the road. As well as Laoise, a lorry driver, the girls meet Freda, who is pernickety about her bales of hay, and Bridie, a butcher. These strong, benign women help the girls on their trip to the coast. Each of them relates a segment of a fairy tale that has shades of Rumpelstiltskin.

The fairytale concludes with the traditional, happy ending, but Orlaith, despite her initial zest for a new life, warns Sive that “there is no such thing as happy endings.” Her comment is prescient, given the tragic denouement. A power game plays itself out, instigated by Orlaith’s infatuation with Sive.

The play is a curious mix of naturalism and magical realism. The three women, with their masculine jobs, appear to have seen it all. Laoise’s comment about freedom is telling.

The girls may be escaping their lonely, humdrum lives, but there is a sense that they’re living in cloud cuckoo land.

The performances of the three actors are convincing. While the presence of the older women could be said to be unnecessary, they are role models in a fairy godmother guise.

Star Rating: 4/5

Live music: Bill Callahan
The Olympia, Dublin

By Pádraic Killeen

Bill Callahan shuffled off his old alias, Smog, a few years back. Since then, his profile has shot up on the back of three perfectly realised concept albums, culminating with last year’s Dream River.

The switch has also corresponded with Callahan revealing a barer persona, both on record and on stage. In the Olympia, he and his majestic band are in wondrous form, but it’s Callahan’s raw intensity that is to the fore.

His superbly crafted lyrics reside in an inspirational use of the most everyday words, and when he performs you witness his conviction. It’s evident in the sinewy contortions of his mouth each time he issues a telling line. It’s as if he were channelling not the words themselves, but the ghost of some simple, hard and honest thing within them.

The danger with that sort of intensity is that, despite the levity Callahan invariably finds in his lyrics, it can all seem too serious, too portentous. In days gone by, Callahan’s set-lists avoided any such fate by embracing an eclecticism of tone.

While it seems criminal to carp about such a beautiful performance, there is a disappointing one-note quality to the set.

Yes, Callahan and his band create a mighty soundtrack to some weird, jazz-western of his own imagining. And, yes, the opening trio of songs — ‘The Sing’, ‘Javelin Unlanding’, and ‘Jim Cain’ — are absolutely serene. And, yes, even when the guitars immerse us in a furious squall for a spell, as they do during a long middle section that features ‘Drover,’ ‘America,’ and ‘One Fine Morning,’ that serenity remains. Yet without a few more ramshackle songs in the set, it all got just a little bit tantric.

Notably, Callahan played only two songs from his Smog back catalogue, both of which were largely conversant with the newer material. It was a great show, but it might have benefited from a few numbers from the more ‘cold-blooded old times’ Callahan used to savour.

Star Rating: 4/5


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