Little Gem captured the hearts and minds of everyone in the Aula Maxima last Tuesday night. Director Jessica Rickard certainly had a tough job attempting to shorten Elaine Murphy’s almost two hour long play into a one act success. However, Jessica managed to do so superbly while preserving the play’s integrity and maintaining its narrative. The play features three women describing their version of the events of the past year in a simple yet incredibly witty manner. No set. No props. No music. Only three boxes on the stage to accompany the three women facing us, nothing between us only the fourth wall. Their honest accounts provide an insight into the issues faced by three generations, offering relatable scenarios for everyone in the audience.
Amber (Verona Daly), a lively teenager who is only a spice bag away from being considered a ‘Dublin Hun’, is living a carefree Sambuca-filled life until she discovers she is pregnant with her – not so reliable – boyfriend Paul’s baby. Amber’s mother, Lorraine (Hazel Gavigan), is long separated from her junkie husband. She has to do one nice thing a week for herself, as prescribed by her shrink and so she takes up salsa dancing and meets Niall, the hairy chap. Kay (Roisin Byrne) the grandmother is in her sixties and is left nursing her adored husband Gem who has recently suffered a stroke. Her love, be it strong, does not compensate for the fact that she hasn’t had sex in over a year and fills us in on her day trip to Ann Summers, where she finds herself purchasing a ‘Rampant Rabbit’.
Credit must be paid to the fabulous writing of Murphy, nevertheless, it is the deliveries of the three women that captivate the audience in this bare, stripped back performance. They performed with such colour and passion that even the coldest of hearts could not but feel emotionally invested in their lives. With only their words and movements, a vivid picture was painted in the mind’s eye, as their tales transcended into the realm of tangibility.
The authenticity of the piece is advanced by the very relative issues addressed, that are still prevalent today in Irish culture. This play succeeds in achieving howls of laughter, while also tackling national taboos such as teenage pregnancy, sexuality and death.
Little Gem shines a light on how these issues are viewed in Irish society, as Amber’s excessive use of alcohol and cocaine is normalized, Lorraine is recommended to go to a psychiatrist which is referred to as a “head doctor”, and Granny Kay discusses her sexual urges as she confesses, “I’m dying for me bit”. These taboo topics of Irish society are dealt with through the medium of comedy which is necessary in order to help break through the stigmatic walls surrounding them. Despite the fact that three women presented these matters to us, everyone in the audience can relate to some aspect of the play, as these issues face everyone in Irish society as a whole.
The comedic nature of how these topics are dealt with, on occasion, can seem to take away from the serious nature of these themes. However, this is permissible as I believe that the utilization of humour by Murphy actually offers the audience a new and perhaps more comfortable platform from which these issues can be addressed. It is through this comedic approach that a non-expressive Irish audience are encouraged to engage in the discussion of these topics long after they leave the auditorium.
In the end we see the three women come together in solidarity as they have lost one Gem but gained another. There is a sense that Amber’s infant, the Little Gem of the title, will carry on the line of good men and embody all of his grandad’s admirable qualities. At Gem’s funeral, Kay learns from a friend that when her husband discovered she was ill, Gem was petrified. However, as was deemed the duty of a man at the time, he remained tongue-tied and never expressed his emotions. It is our hope that baby Gem, surrounded by these three empowering women, will grow up to repudiate the unwritten rules surrounding these stigmatized topics and break down these barriers.
While Little Gem earns the beauty of simplicity, each character contains their own in-depth complexities and development and were all played with such intense passion which immediately captured the audience’s attention and retained it for the duration of the piece. Altogether, a stellar, life-affirming performance that should illicit pride in all who were involved in the production. Little Gem can be summed up in the same way Kay encapsulates the nature of her husband – “Gem by name, gem by nature”.
A more suitable date could not have been chosen for Room 68 to make its debut. Emerging writer and director Kevin Johnson joined the audience in the Aula Maxima on Valentines night to watch his own thirty minute, unconventional love story come to life.
Room 68 follows the dysfunctional relationship of two young professionals, Stephen (Andrew Crabbe) and Jane (Johannah McDonald) who are both having an affair with the same charming young man, Charlie. Charlie (Ciarán Kendrick) who describes himself as a therapist, is the most engaging character as he carries with him a sense of ambivalence and provides much of the comedic bait to the audience.
The play begins with what appears to be a common argument between Stephen and Jane. The negative rapport established between these two is in stark contrast to their individual relationships with Charlie, as both greet him with a passionate kiss, immediately setting a lustful tone. The lure of secrecy is maintained in a hilarious manner as we realise Charlie has invited both Stephen and Jane to the same hotel. Much of the comedy derives from Charlie’s attempts to hide Stephen and Jane from one another. However, even when his attempts fail, Charlie continues to entertain the audience while Stephen and Jane catch up on what has been happening.
Good use is made of the stage from the outset and throughout as the direction of movement carried out by the actors proves to be visually engaging. Complementing this, the play benefits from incorporating the use of sound which enhances the performance overall.
While the ending contains an interesting twist that shifts some of the evening’s events into perspective, it also makes us question some elements of the play. It is worth noting the lack of questioning carried out by Jane in relation to Stephen’s sexual orientation, when she discovers he is having an affair with another man. Perhaps this is excluded intentionally – a progressive thought that is built upon the yearning many of us have for a more accepting world. However, the absence of this discussion is possibly a missed opportunity to both address our present reality and to promote a better one.
This light-hearted play generated many moments of laughter from the audience through its series of humorous events and witty punchlines. It can however, at times feel as though credibility is sacrificed on the altar of comedy.
That being said, this first performance of Room 68 proved to be a success with the audience. Its intriguing initial concept and entertaining execution combine to produce a feel-good play where love truly triumphs all.