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Quake review: An ingeniously staged argument for the value of community in a world of individuals

Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Janet Moran’s play takes place in a Quaker meeting house on the point of being swept away by developers


Samuel Beckett Theatre

Few productions in this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival will look quite so politely beautiful as this tangled drama – a spoken oratorio for six voices – from Once Off Productions and Mermaid Arts Centre. Paul Keogan’s set and lighting are to die for. A tree lurks behind a large gauze window at the back of the stage. The theatre space is occupied by more assorted (Shaker-adjacent?) wooden chairs than we ever need. Alison McKenna enters as the quietly fraught Róisín and sets flowers downstage. The tree will change with the seasons as the four acts – and a brief coda – take us through the year. Róisín will replace the flowers as she moves from everyday worry to more mortal concerns. What a lovely place to be for 90 enjoyable minutes.

Janet Moran’s play takes place in a Quaker meeting house that is on the point of being swept away by developers. (The threat of a move to distant Terenure looms.) Our six friends meet every week for an apparent variation on the traditional Quaker meeting for worship. They sit and stew in their own thoughts until something bursts into language. Karen Ardiff is self-deluded as a woman who takes a few seasons to realise why her offspring is reluctant to visit from Australia. John Olohan is bumbling and profane as an older gentleman giving in to dementia. Ruairí Heading is the eager beaver. Elaine O’Dwyer is fresh as a new arrival. The experienced Ronan Leahy just about makes sense of an initially homophobic zealot whose dialogue is not entirely free of cliche.

Conall Morrison’s direction is ingenious in its binding of the characters through shared gestures, such as crossing their legs at the same time. In one beautiful late moment, emphasising unspoken communication, Muirne Bloomer’s reliably imaginative choreography takes them on a wild dance to an eminently suitable overheard 1980s pop classic.

Maybe, more than an oratorio, the piece resembles one of those post-Sondheim musicals in which characters express themselves through extended solos. Connections between the characters are rarely direct. But, as the action progresses, it becomes clear the play is arguing for the value of community in a world of individuals. Reminding us of an explicit theme in the work of Ingmar Bergman, one character refers to the “silence of God”. Comfort here comes from the bustle of fleshy humans and their imperfect compromises.


For a piece with so many eccentric turns, it ends up in a relatively conventional place. The characters go through traditional narrative arcs and, in more than one case, learn old-fashioned lessons. First be kind. Listen to your children. Celebrate happiness and life when you still have it. They remain Irish (perhaps Quaker) lessons. There is some sentimentality here, but there is no therapyspeak and no enormous outbreaks of incontinent emotion.

Enormous work has gone into Quake to good effect. There is the sense of a complex machine clicking smoothly to a desired destination. All involved deserve praise, but the most vigorous nods should go the way of Abraham “Fish” Allen for his “tree fabrication”. There’s something you don’t say every day.

Continues at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, until Sunday, October 8th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist