Subscriber OnlyStageReview

The Cold Sings review: Sylvia Plath remains enigmatic

Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: Junk Ensemble’s latest dance-theatre piece is involving but not illuminating

The Cold Sings

The Depot @ The Complex

The audience enters through the backstage area, where crisp white towels are folded on chairs. The stage itself has a behind-the-scenes feel: empty clothes bags hang on metal rails in a bleached clinic on one side of the venue; a featureless doll’s house looks ready to be inhabited on the other. The performance, meanwhile, has already begun, with Walé Adebusuyi and Sean X in full-throated voice, singing soulfully to the resonant soundtrack being created live by Mary Barnecutt, Catriona Frost and Katerina Speranskaya.

Denis Clohessey’s composition, with its unsettling sirens of disquiet, plays a vital role in creating the visceral experience of Junk Ensemble’s latest dance-theatre piece, providing a heartbeat against which the dancers can perform the physical and emotional pulses of The Cold Sings, which is very loosely assembled from fragments of Sylvia Plath’s biographical writing, poetry and influence. Lines from Plath’s poetry are incanted sparsely throughout the 60-minute performance, but the key lyrical theme is actually drawn from John Dryden; a Plath scholar may be interested in excavating the link, but a general audience member will be bemused by the significance.

Megan and Jessica Kennedy’s choreography, honed in collaboration with the performers Robyn Byrne, Kévin Coquelard, Lucia Kickham and Julie Koenig, as well as Adebusuyi and X, offers a more formal touchstone of imagistic resonance. The energising dance hop of the opening scene evokes both the time and place of Plath’s coming of age: her realisation of the power and vulnerability of the physical female form. The significance of dressing and undressing is performed in several effective sequences, which symbolise the power play of sexual relationships and the prison of madness, as well as the joy of physical freedom. The dancers demonstrate both physical and emotional power. However, they are especially moving as an ensemble in the asylum scene, when their movement is constricted and rigid rather than fluent and free.

Valerie Reid’s intriguing scenography, Sarah Jane Shiels’s surprising lighting design and Sarah Bacon’s prolific costuming all add to the involving atmosphere, which shrills, startles and stuns with beauty. However, The Cold Sings never quite illuminates the enigma of the poet or her poetry.


Runs at the Complex, Dublin 7, until Sunday, October 9th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer