Three women, three generations. Elaine Murphy’s debut play Little Gem, first seen in Dublin in 2008 and at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, deposits a Dublin grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter on three chairs and lets them loose on the audience in rotating monologues.
It’s an Irish thing, this. Good, vivid anecdotal writing, but not exactly a play. The past master of this form is Conor McPherson, but Murphy doesn’t yet pack a real dramatic punch, or twist our expectations out of kilter, even though she tells a good domestic story.
Paul Meade’s production for the Guna Nua Theatre Company is a litany of love, sex, birth and death over the course of one year. Amber (Sarah Greene) is a party girl with an unbelievably thick Dublin accent who gets pregnant by the wrong man, while her mother Lorraine (Amelia Crowley) is going off her head, and to salsa classes in Temple Bar.
Sitting between them is Anita Reeves’ rosy-cheeked and amenable Kay, a jolly monument to ageing with optimism, even if her fading husband isn’t up to much; so little, in fact, she follows a friend’s advice and pops into Ann Summers to get herself a Rampant Rabbit.
This is still daring stuff for an Irish theatre company, wedged among the more familiar routines of drunken behaviour; a gob-smacked trip to Paris after Lorraine overcomes the squidgy embarrassment of her first sexual encounter with her new man, Niall; and the granddad’s funeral, with its fond farewells and inevitable punch-up.
It’s the tang and roll of the language that carries us through, delivered with relish by all three actors; of course, Anita Reeves, one of the original Glenties sisters in Dancing at Lughnasa, is a national treasure, and any excuse to see her back on a London stage is a good one.
Crowley and Greene show how much depth of talent there is in Irish acting these days, and the writing sparkles as only Irish writing can, revealing as much about the national character and temperament as the mood of the times. It’s a message in a bottle, though, leaving us to fill in the bigger picture, the broader canvas, ourselves.