- at Smock Alley Black Box for Tiger Dublin Fringe)
Ah, woe betide the Irish people! After 800 Years of Oppression™ under the thumb of the Bastarding Brits, Ireland found herself free, only to be led back into the mire of greed and corruption by a cabal of Bankers™, Developers™, Politicians™ and of course, The Catholic Church™. We wandered naively down the trail like a group of Wayward Paddies™ into a black pit of Neoliberalism™ from which we have yet to emerge. The Downtrodden Sons of Roisín™ were scattered like seeds to the wind, and our Four Green Fields of Éireann™ were condemned to penury and despair. Damn The Flaws In Our National Character! Damn the Colonial Legacy! Damn the Drink! Damn the rain! Damn Denis O’Brien! Damn the miserable fate of The Plain People of Ireland!
Or so the story goes.
Approaching the production of ‘The Windstealers’, Jane Madden’s play at Smock Alley as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe, directed by Anushka Senanayake, you’d be forgiven for carrying a few assumptions about how it would play out. A political satire concerning the not-entirely-corruption-free harnessing of a natural resource? Politicians, property developers and slick business types conspiring to form a scheme by which the people of the town Lose The Run of Themselves under the guise of economic expansion? The parallels to facets of recent Irish history are obvious, and the fear may be that we are in for 70 minutes of thinly-hidden pulpit bashing and lecturing along the lines of our opening paragraph. Thankfully, the audience is spared such a bluntly orchestrated dive into the crater of dew-eyed navel gazing. For long stretches, ‘The Windstealers’ works quite well.
The town of Ballygweeha is none-too proud to call itself ‘the windiest town in Ireland’. At the opening, the stage is bare but for a single Beckettian, wind-slanted tree. People spend the mornings taking the garden off the roof, as that’s where it ends up after an average blustery night. The townspeople spend their lives walking sideways against the wind in what’s come to be known as the ‘Gweeha Sidle’. Local layabouts have little to do but, well, lay about, half-heartedly complaining about the lack of employment.
Things change for the town, however, upon the return of prodigal son Luc Torney. Flanked by burly Polish bodyguards and pulsating dance music that seemingly comes out of nowhere, he charms the town into accepting a scheme whereby the wind is sold for a profit, the bent tree is hoisted with a windmill, and the townsfolk rejoice at the prospect of a new, more prosperous economic situation.
Developers and builders get rich, golf is suddenly in vogue and everything is going wonderfully. Inevitably, it isn’t long before rats are being smelled, chiefly by Jacinta Nangle, daughter of Ballygweeha’s odious caricature of a mayor.
For all that the play sells itself as a satire on things which have been endlessly satirised before, it manages to come across as somehow fresh and able to say its own thing. Yes, the Irish way of speaking is too often reduced to repetitions of ‘Sure look’ ‘Ah here’ and ‘Go on’, but for the most part the jokes and the story work. The political material, which could have proved stale in the wrong hands, gets a pass as the story manages to stand and gain traction under its own steam. The 70 or so minutes of the run time pass at a fair clip, incident packed and busy as comedy should be, not content to rest on its laurels or dwell too long on whatever aspect of national life is being dealt with at the time.
The 7-strong cast work their way through nearly twice as many roles, and the technical side of the play comes across as seamless. The fact most are recent products of the Lir suggests bright things down the road for Irish theatre in general. The plotting gets a little haphazard towards the end, and you could probably accuse a few of the gags and characterisations of being too broad and blunted for their own good. But these are minor matters. Overall, The Windstealers holds up better than quite a few people may have expected and more than justifies its place at the festival.
The Windstealers plays at the Smock Alley Black Box space, and runs until Sunday 13th.
Words: Cathal Kavanagh