The Abbey Theatre contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival is Tales Of Ballycumber by Sebastian Barry. As its title suggests, this is a very wordy, static, almost set of comments, observations or stories based around a premise, hard-learned, that differences divide and old tribal or sectarian positions never really go away. And in this almost imaginary setting of a sloped set covered in daffodils with a bare table, a few chairs and a chimney breast tapering up into the sky. A Protestant small farm set up in the hungry hills of a bleak Winter location.
During the mostly dialogues, you learn that this could be a ghost story and that all the five characters are dead and haunting the place as it were by their stories and bewilderment. For those familiar with Barry’s work, there is a central idea that Protestants do not fit in easily in a Catholic landscape and a recent RTE programme about the murder of 16 Protestants in Co. Cork in the early twenties, adds a poignant veracity to the play.
The setting is powerful by Mike Britton and when the sea of yellow daffodils turn to blood red, it is an amazing image in a play short of visual images.
The acting is top-class with Rea, supported by a fast talking Aaron Monaghan, a wonderful Liam Carney, with Lisa Hogg and Derbhle Crotty. But I came away with the feeling that this oblique piece is made up of discards or out-takes from previous Barry work and for all its suggested or implied content, it is just a near pretentious set of guff.
I didn’t think it fair to tell the complete story as the play runs until 7 November and the amazingly visual set and quality actors give the work the stamp of significance and you forget it might just be a radio play better left to the radio.