The Scourge, Wexford Arts Centre

A michelle



Have words, will travel.

Before the premiere of Under Milk Wood in New York, Dylan Thomas chided his fraught cast. ‘Love the words.’ Michelle Dooley Mahon loves words. Her eponymous book, from which The Scourge is adapted, is a paean to language.

Given free rein, her verbosity has the cyclic rate of fire of a Kalashnikov. The Scourge that we know is an unbridled pyrotechnic flow of metaphor and onomatopoeia, bookended by covers.

But she had to up her game remoulding The Scourge for the stage, because this is not a play. This is real life. The quotidian morsels of everyday living laid bare.

The curtains pulled back.

Hesitancy occurs in the writer’s performance at Wexford Arts Centre, but that’s natural. She can’t help but smile at her own humour, and then remembers she’s on stage. Playing a part. Or is she?

Ben Barnes’ biggest challenge as director must have been curbing that infectious enthusiasm, like lunging a horse before hacking out.

The wardrobe is Narnia’s portal, from which the paraphernalia associated with the theme of The Scourge, a long day’s journey into death, emerge.

They are Dooley Mahon’s Songlines, a personal braille to maintain the confluence of her story, and time.

And yet I could picture her sitting on a stool, like Dave Allen, alone under a light, glass of whiskey in hand, but without the props and the Desert Island discs, and being demonstrably as effective.

Because Dooley Mahon, in a hugely courageous performance, reminds us that art and life co-exist and emerge from a single source to assemble coherence. To stand guard against chaos, said Kenneth Tynan.

This is flesh and blood writing, sentient and animate, rooted in grief. And as Dooley Mahon knows only two well, grief has two acts: loss, followed by the remaking of a life.

‘What good amid these?’ asked Whitman. Dooley Mahon provides an answer, ensuring that the powerful play goes on.

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