Rife with poignant, imagistic narration – akin to the work of our own Sebastian Barry – David Greig’s Yellow Moon yields a poetic tale of teenage lovers on the run. Sparsely punctuated by dialogue, much of this work is a story told by its main characters: Lee, Leila, Frank, Billy and Lee’s mother. While the work requires only four or five actors, director Andrew Flynn included thirteen of GYT’s members by also introducing eight storyteller figures. This effectively maximised the drama’s performance potential.
Stag Lee Mcalinden (Ó hAoláin) and Silent Leila (Ní Chualáin) are social outcasts; while Lee’s troubles are manifested in his deviant behaviour, Leila’s status as an introverted high-achiever masks an intense self-loathing. Their inadvertent involvement in the murder of Billy, Lee’s mother’s boyfriend, leads to an adventure that is more of self-definition than escape.
Although the audience was seated on all sides of Owen MacCárthaigh’s sparse, rocky, rectangular set, it was a production that wrapped itself around its viewers like a sensual embrace. James Tooher’s gentle acoustic guitar notes drifted in from behind the spectators, enhancing the work’s romantic ambience. Flynn placed his storytellers within the audience; these actors joined together in song where appropriate, emphasising the play’s pivotal music motif. The skilful command of the Scottish accent, demonstrated by most of the actors, furthered its musicality.
As Lee and Leila, Ó hAoláin and Ní Chualáin movingly conveyed that awkward intensity of adolescence. Barry Hopkin (playing Frank, an alcoholic who shelters this young couple on the run in exchange for arduous daily chores) embodied the reticent hardness of long-suppressed trauma. While much of the drama is concerned with the pain of human existence, there are several moments of comic relief. Orla O’Brien played up the bubbly ignorance of Holly, a character who satirises celebrity culture; while Ó hAoláin’s solemn delivery of lines such as “I should have went down on you” embraced the play’s subtle humour, which lies in the stark contrast between such naturalist dialogue and the narration’s poetry. The drama was enhanced by Adam Fitzsimons’ atmospheric lighting, which also helped the set to act variously as a graveyard, a mountain and a beach.
In this play, Greig dramatises a modern Bonnie and Clyde tale. Yet, he promotes complex enquiry of significant contemporary relevance. The writing is obsessed with the question of what is ‘real’ in our celebrity-obsessed, postmodern society. The regular use of conditional phrases highlights the notion that reality or truth is unattainable. In this production, a storyteller informed us that Leila might have said: “When I’m with you I feel like I’m real […] I feel like I’m a story”. This conflation of the ‘real’ and the story was most striking when the storytellers relayed newspaper headlines about Billy’s murder. Flynn’s placement of these figures, dispersed around the auditorium, meant that fragments of the story came from a variety of angles — both literally and metaphorically. This advanced the play’s revelation of how divergent perspectives lead to a mutability of truth.
Since much of the drama is told as a story, there is a danger of this work lacking energy in performance. However, despite the relatively bare stage and minimal props, the creativity of GYT’s production strategically evaded this risk. The Irish premiere of Yellow Moon was imaginatively crafted, stimulating and evocative.
Siobhán O’Gorman is currently completing a doctoral research project on gender and the canon in contemporary theatre at the National University of Ireland, Galway.