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No Woman Is an Island review: A potted history of social attitudes to solitude that is not to be missed

Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Róisín Stack continues to expand the grammar and techniques of her brand of performance art

No Woman Is an Island

Project Arts Centre

Róisín Stack is a theatre and performance artist, based in the west of Ireland. She has a long-standing professional role in the industry, working for leading drama organisations, such as Theatre 57, Macnas and Druid, and was director of Galway Theatre Festival for several years.

Stack notes in interviews that 2018 was a pivotal year in her career: she decided to leave full-time employment and reorient the direction her work and artistic practice were taking. This decision led to Also for Roaring – inspired by The Gas Heart by the dadaist Tristan Tzara – written and directed by Stack in 2020, in collaboration with her small team of performers.

Also for Roaring is most readily described as experimental theatre, and in No Woman Is an Island, Stack continues to expand the grammar and techniques of her brand of performance art, this time by playing with the format of a lecture presentation.

Performance works that reference and subvert the common tropes of public lectures appear in the biographies of several notable artists. Yvonne Rainer, for instance, the American minimalist choreographer, and Joseph Beuys, the German founder of Fluxus, both experimented with “lecture-performances” as a means to combine didactic arguments, speculative reveries and storytelling. Stack’s new work follows in this tradition with an hour-long narrative that reflects on the concept of isolation.


She provides us with a potted history of social attitudes to solitude, organised around quotes from key women thinkers and artists. As the title of the show suggests, Stack’s presentation navigates a constellation of ideas that address womanhood and feminist themes, though the explicitness of this conceptual framing transforms over the course of the show.

While there are fascinating insights into ancient and medieval religious practices at the beginning that pertain to women’s place in society, the power of Stack’s narrative comes from her own story, as she reveals the private peculiarity of her life to us. As we journey further into the intimacy of Stack’s interior world, the relationship between the projected text and performer changes. She speaks less about the ideas contained in them and, instead, they silently express nuances of meaning that haunt the memories she reveals.

We learn about her relationship to her husband, her two cats (one deceased) and her sister. We learn about the joy she takes in solo dance parties, which are then threaded throughout the performance. There’s plenty of humour in the way Stack approaches a thought or memory but, gradually and with careful consideration, the levity is punctured by moments of real emotional tension, as the artist grapples with reflections that are heavy with sorrow and with pain.

Isolation is a human requirement, Stack argues, and she makes an eloquent case for the solace found in the immersive luxury of one’s own company – but isolation, as quotes selected from Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf help to illuminate, is often the gateway to loneliness, which is, in turn, a negotiation of sorts between the solitary person and feelings of emptiness. This tension provides the ground for some of Stack’s most vivid, elegiac reminiscences. Not to be missed.

No Woman Is an Island continues at Project Arts Centre, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, until Saturday, October 14th