Theatre review: Autumn Royal, Everyman, Cork 3/5

Award-winning novelist and short story writer Kevin Barry has turned his hand to a play, with mixed results.

Shane Casey and Siobhán McSweeney star Autumn Royal. Picture: Miki Barlok

While his trademark wit and often unique take on language is evident, the work lacks dramatic tension. 

Certainly, there is friction between a brother and his older sister who are living at home, looking after their unseen and unwell father. 

They are full of resentment at their lot, with Tim fantasising about living in Australia, and May feeling sorry for herself, regularly spewing venom. She is quite a study, played by Siobhán McSweeney. 

When she utters the C-word, it is perfectly in keeping with her bitterness at having been robbed of a life. 

When bitching about a neighbour, she describes a woman as “ateing against the pain”. 

May is tempted to take her father’s tablets to deal with her own pain.

Shane Casey, as Tim, is a softer character, in thrall to Cork City, where the family lives. But he wants out. And who could blame him?

The play takes place in a kitchen which has a surreal aspect to it. There are about 20 washing machines stacked in the room, with the smell of detergent greeting the limited audience seated in the studio-style performance space backstage, rather than the main theatre.

The audience also hears the disembodied groans of the old man upstairs. When he is upset, his children simply play Fat Larry’s schmaltzy song ‘Zoom’ to quieten him.

There’s a sense of the father being infantilised by his carers. They make him mashed banana and peanut butter sandwiches — baby food. 

But they suffer under the weight of their responsibility, and at one stage their conversation even turns to murderous plans.

Mainly played for laughs, there are dark themes here too, but the play doesn’t have the depths of despair and real homicidal tendencies of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which ploughs similar terrain. 

It is worth seeing, though, not least as it deals with a subject that many families have to contend with.

  • Autumn Royal runs at the Everyman until Saturday. It plays at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin from February 7-11; and The Dock in Leitrim on February 23.


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