One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay

The One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay at Wexford Arts Centre contributes abundantly to the long and rich tradition of the monologue on the Irish stage, seven writers – several new to the format – and seven performers who prove that composition and performance can be one and the same act.

Although the concept of personal stories waiting to erupt was conceived by director Paul Walsh seven years earlier, Covid 19 restrictions and lockdown have acted as a catalyst for bringing this project to fruition.

Two of Wexford Drama Group’s senior stalwarts, Phil Lyons and Andy Doyle, persuasively bookend an evening of introspection and reflection, rooted in original material suffused with the cornerstone of any good monologue, empathy.

Wexford Town (Hello in There) is a humorous though heartfelt lyrical paean by writer and performer Lyons to his adopted town, whereas Doyle in Thomas O’Leary’s The Trip of a Lifetime eschews superfluous trimmings to confront the brass tacks of a pandemic: illness and loss. ‘No pubs, no hurling, no travel,’ he laments, resignation and irony laced with fortitude.

Wexford, specifically the harbour, is a central character. ‘Ah the marina. Thank God we have it,’ says Doyle. Director Paul Walsh is keen for Wexford to be a strong personality in its own right, not merely a colourful backdrop, but throbbing with soul, refusing to age. Defiance is omnipresent.

These monologues are by writers steeped in an understanding of their own relationship to Wexford, performed by actors attuned to the nuances on the page and gifted in extemporisation before a masked audience. Strange times.

In Michelle Dooley Mahon’s Boots – the only outlier because it is set in the 1990s – John Crosbie’s edges are pared. He is embedded to his own patch like Beckett’s Winnie, complete with bag (of beer), a man whose colourful history Crosbie conflates into a controlled flow.

The past is a foreign country in Tales From the Quay: wistful in Wexford Town; a house of horrors in Eoghan Rua Finn’s Dei Gratia (with Jeanette Sidney Kelly); a lamentation in Boots; a suffocation in Carol Long’s Living Like a Fugitive (with Mairead Ryan); indecisive in Heather Hadrill’s Coming Home, but dispatched like a frisbee by Danielle Fortune in Jack Matthew’s Revenge.

Stasis is the enemy of  electrifying monologue, so Fortune’s Vikki roams the stage like it’s a cage, her feral gait venomously dispatching great Matthew one-liners, recalling that she ‘guts sea creatures for a living’, and how she ‘threw away her virginity on the quay.’

And because these are real lives there is betrayal and exits and entrances, specifically in Dei Gratia, Boots, A Method in Menapia – Paul Walsh’s sitcom with a terrific Imelda McDonagh as social climber Pamela and a cast of dead paramours – Living Like a Fugitive and Coming Home, Stephen Byrne as Christopher nailing the swallow note of the migrant forever destined to return to the nest. Tales from the Quay is rich in character and incident, reconciling the past and the present, and unafraid to make the heart the centre of the world.

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