Pineapple at axis:Ballymun

October 24, 2013

At the launch of Playography na Gaeilge at the Project Arts Centre late last week the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said that “If you want a real commentary on social history in this country you go to the plays.” The people of the future could do a hell of a lot worse, when examining the regeneration of Ballymun, than looking to Philip McMahon’s terrific new dramedy Pineapple that recently ended its tour of mini engagements around the Pale at the Axis in Ballymun (revival please!)

Set in and around the flats as people come and go, often for good, McMahon’s lyrical use of language, David Horan’s subtle yet incisive direction and the unself-conscious playing of a top notch cast brought flesh and bone to the communities falling to progress. The female characters mirror each other through their irresponsible behavior, their want to be wanted and their constant clawing at whatever happiness the others achieve. But they mirror each other also in stoicism, providing a body to confide in, a shoulder to cry on and a voice of reason when the boys are back in town. In a world where mothers turn their back and fathers deal in slaps these women are the one constant in each other’s lives.

Pity, then, Dan (Nick Lee) who comes into this world after a chance meeting with Antoinette (Janet Moran), who picks him up after his blind date leaves him high and far from dry. Rolling up to Paula’s (Caolfhionn Dunne) flat in the hopes of a party all he gets is the two women and their blithe spirits. A single mother Paula has two children, their deadbeat Da long since gone, and acts like she has the monopoly on strife. Wading through the mixed signals Dan gently wears her down. “Some people don’t know how to be happy,” he says. “They just need to be shown how”.

Standing in the way of Paula’s happiness is her little sister Roxanna (Jill Murphy), her ‘blood’. Tagged by Dan as “a bad seed” she’s just back from having “a procedure” in England. Haunted by thoughts of motherhood and thoughts of her fella, her spiky exterior is really a front for the softer interior; a flood of hormones exposing what she feels is her adult mentality.

McMahon’s wonderfully observed script captures the decay that has set into these women and their world but never states it out right, using humor, heart and compassion to cover the stench of violence and vulnerability that clings to the characters like the tatty wallpaper hanging off Paul O’Mahony scaffolded set. The twitching curtains, constant cat calls and communal spirit of the towers is realised via the prerecorded roars of the upstairs/downstairs neighbors while the constant spill of characters through Paula’s front door hammers home the lack of security and privacy that defined this life.

McMahon’s use of the working class vernacular is laugh out loud funny and its casual delivery by the company, who treat it like their everyday speech and not scripted nuggets of gold, make it more so. The horrors that circle the characters are frequent and familiar, humor acts as a buffer. In playing it for what it is the cast bestows a dignity on what could easily have been crude comedy.

The acting of the ensemble really impresses. The performances are perfectly judged, from Dunne’s firm yet fragile take on Paula to Janet Moran’s comic if tragic foil there is barely a foot put wrong. There was scope here to mug or be hysterical or play up to a more than willing crowd but Dunne made strong, conscious decisions for her Paula covering up a soft, empathic core with a hard, unmoving shell. If she could just relax a little during the lighter moments she would have been perfect.

The enunciation is a little mangled at the start but it evens out so that the subtle poetry within McMahon’s script can really take hold and his delicate detailing engrosses you in the personal story of an entire community without whipping out the violins.



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