Setanta at the Peacock Theatre
October 28, 2013
The heavy metal music playing as we enter lets us know that we are not in the Gaeltacht anymore Toto. In fact, Fibin Teo’s Setanta, a co-production with the Abbey Theatre written and directed by Paul Mercier, is a dystopian spin on the Táin Bó Cúailnge, which combines mask, music and the Irish language with electrifying, if exhausting, results.
Mel Mercier’s pulsating score quickly inducts us into a seedy world of wrestling, wrangling and copulation as champion fighter- and out right cad, Setanta ditches his pregnant mistress to return to Eamhain Mhacha in search of acclaim.
Once home he discovers a country torn a part, with a puppet Taoiseach in thrall to big business and a people untrusting and unwilling to take any more hardship for the material gain of others. As images of marching and looting citizens are spliced with condescending speeches and vulgar displays of excess the modern parallels are abundantly clear.
But they are wrapped up in a production that takes its mythical source and uses it not only as a metaphor for these unstable times but as yarn to weave a gripping and unyieldingly violent evenings entertainment. Where actors double up at an alarming rate, flinging themselves around the stage, while donning and discarding characters with a flick of one of Matthew Guinnane’s leering masks, with a commitment to caricature that makes each change credible.
The rapid pace of the play and the delivery of the text can leave you dizzy, a condition not helped by the multiple cannuint deployed and the richness of Mercier’s script which is so pleasant to the ear it makes you wish you’d paid more attention in Irish class so you’d get the full nuance.
But the filmic direction and aesthetic applied insures the emotions which charge the text are understood regardless of fluency, paradoxically keeping you on edge but not wanting to look.