Upon entering the Boys School space in Smock Alley Theatre, we are met with ominous electrical humming, a smoky atmosphere, a shabby red curtain in the corner of the stage, clay covering the ground. We are about to be presented with Debris by famed British playwright, Denis Kelly. From the moment Michael (Shane O’Regan) stomps barefoot onto the dark stage we are hooked inside this dark little gambol. O’Regan gasps his whiney Cork accent down a warbling microphone, telling us the story of his father’s crucifixion in the family home. Before there is time to recover, the red curtain is pulled away to reveal Michelle (Clara Harte) who tells the story of her mother’s death, which she will the tell in different versions throughout the play.
The action has been resituated to be take place in a sort of apocalyptic nowheresville, which frankly should be a tired tried-and-tested image at this point, but there is an element of ghostly vaudeville about the way the story of the characters’ bleak lives are presented to us. They are ignored by their parents, who both die within the graphic monologues, the children are then passed from adult to adult, unwanted, unable to figure out life. Michael finds a baby in a pile of warm rubbish naming him the titular, Debris. It is a confused mass of stories, all fighting for our attention but the material has been handled well by director, Cathal Cleary, bringing nuance where control could easily be lost.
Ultimately the play is a search for intimacy as one crawls through the dark reality of the world. As the two actors writhe around in the black soil that coats the floor, they move from misunderstood freaks to off-kilter unloved kids who gain our sympathy, who we now understand all the better for their capering and squawking for the last seventy five minutes.
The two actors are perfectly matched, Harte brings enough humor and light to the drudgery and difficulty of the siblings’ lives to offset the bleak and craggy torturous stories given by O’ Regan. The plays of Denis Kelly are notoriously without context and difficult to perform, but by reshaping the play, gifting it with two new protagonists who are children of Cork, the whole story takes on new significance to an Irish audience. Another shrewd move from Reality:Check Productions who are quickly gaining momentum as one of the grittiest and edgiest theatre companies creating work in Dublin. It’s not often we get to see play like this on the smaller Dublin stages, which are both difficult to perform and perform well. Fortunately, Reality:Check are succeeding.
Debris – 11 – 21 Apr | 8pm in The Boys’ School. 2:30pm matinees on Saturdays.
Reviewed by Aisling Flynn