The Cambria @ The Project Arts Centre

February 4, 2011

When I was young we were pretty poor. Not pain in your belly poor but poor enough for my dad to have to wear a pair of hobnailed boots that were so decimated the souls had split of from the leather making them look like two giant mouths on his feet. When he’d come home in the evening I’d sit enthralled as these shoes regaled me with tales of Bolagadin, a naughty little boy from the Aran Islands who did battle with three ugly, generously proportioned witches. It wasn’t till years later that I copped my father did not have a pair of talking shoes (and the aforementioned witches instilled in me a fear of the larger lady which lead to all manor of awkward situations for my mother). Yet my dad was so committed to telling the story and I so badly wanted to believe that I can still clearly see the stink lines on the witch that could be smelt two towns over or the witch with the nose that reached to Galway.

There is a similar level of commitment given in Benbo Production’s show, The Cambria, currently being revived at the Project Arts Centre. Five years old it has lost none of its vim or its virtue as under the discernible direction of Raymond Keane two performers (Writer Donal O Kelly and Soracha Fox) bring to life an array of characters that vary greatly in age, appearance and appeal. Telling the story of “Black O Connell”- the abolitionist Frederick Douglas- who visited these shores in 1845, it takes a short, sharp look at the nature of the Irish man and how our compassion for our fellow man may have eroded since we attained our own liberty.

It is never pontifical. It simply tells the tale of the hero’s greeting received by a man on the lam and contrasts it with how he may have been greeted today. As the actors switch gender, class and color they revel in the artifice, often reading in the stage directions or doubling up as three separate characters in the same sentence using
the barest of props and the minutest costume changes to do so.

It’s educational yet entertaining and most importantly impartial. There’s no black and white in this story-the sneering slave owner is more than matched in the despicable stakes by the all knowing, liberal choir mistress. It’s also not perfect in its presentation, nor does it aim to be. The accents can slip but they can also delight, the characterisation isn’t all that different from one role to the next but it is always truthful, thorough and totally committed too. O Kelly will switch from possessing a social malignance to stoic dignity and never loose the stories magnificent flow while the chameleon Fox is so adept at creating credible characters I struggle to recall the natural state from which she projected them.
To tell you more would be to ruin the pleasure of the experience. But you won’t go wrong in investing in this show that gets it right on nearly every level.




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