Friday, October 09, 2015

The Táin - madcap mythology and masked mayhem from Commedia of Errors

Cu Chulainn stands up to bravely defend stinky Ulster and its prized bull from the rampaging armies of Connacht who are heading north. Under direction from cackling Queen Medb and her bumbling assistants, the marauding Connacht challengers must solve riddles, win duels, abide by the local customs as well as persevere and perspire if they are to have any chance of success.

Performed in the intimate setting of the Belfast Barge, The Táin’s audience are very close to the action and end up with vital roles in this Commedia of Errors production. The Commedia dell’Arte tradition is nearly five hundred years old and has influenced opera, Shakespeare and even improvised comedy. But it’s the likeness to pantomime that was most apparent at last night’s performance.

The Táin is a retelling of an early Irish legend. The success of this show isn’t based on how reverently the ancient mythology is translated to stage, but is instead a factor of the creative dialogue and wordplay, the banter with the audience and the madcap physical tomfoolery that races the story towards the interval and beyond.

There are anachronisms aplenty and the fact that the cast and audience frequently acknowledge that they’re in a play – complete with “theatrical magic” – makes it all the more amusing.

Brendan Quinn’s hunched-over grand-gestured performance as the hapless Amadan made him my favourite of the evening. Jack Darell bounces off and onto the stage as the super-confident close-shaven Cu Chulainn, with acrobatic fight sequences and optimism beyond his years.

Julie Kinsella’s Queen Medb is a likeable yet devious leader who teaches us lessons about how to choose your cannon fodder warriors and how to win even if the battle might be lost.

As well as writing, directing and performing in the two hour work, Benjamin Gould created many of the intricate masks worn by the cast. The carved and curved visors conceal the forehead, eyebrows and cheeks, so each actor’s eyes and mouths work overtime as they juggle three or four roles. Teenagers in the audience loved the show.

It’s an unusual branch of theatre but very effective. And combined with such a fun and refreshing script, The Táin is a show that deserves another longer run and I look forward to seeing more from Commedia of Errors in the future. You can catch The Táin in Coleraine’s Riverside Theatre on Friday 9 and back in The Belfast Barge on Saturday 10 October.

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