Charolais: Everyman Palace, reviewed by Liam Heylin, Cork Evening Echo, Thursday 14th of May 2015
THIS new one-woman play is a very special piece of work that brings a welcome new voice to the Irish stage. Written and performed by Noni Stapleton she scores on both fronts. It starts as a kitchen sink drama with a young woman from town wandering around the kitchen of her farmer boyfriend’s house. It is clear from the start that Siobhan is jealous of Jimmy’s almost undivided attention to the Charolais.
It looks like we are set for maybe an off-kilter black comedy where the comic potential for this dairy duel will be milked for all it is worth. And there no doubt there is marvellous humour at every turn. Tapping into the French origins of the beast, Stapleton imagines the cow as a particularly randy Edith Piaf-type figure longing for the much vaunted arrival of the bull to impregnate her, only for the utter disappointment of the AI man with his impregnating needle. So far so daft lots of fun but just as we might imagine that it will run aground on some irreverent black comedy, the play becomes unexpectedly moving.
Even though it is often said that we are a rural nation this particular brand of Irish rural drama is new. To hear of the desolation and loneliness experienced by a farming family at the slaughter of their entire herd in the 1980s because of TB is so unexpectedly emotional and it puts the play on another plane. And the fact that that particular story is given by the least sympathetic figure in the drama to that point the mother-in-law figure makes it even more so.
Again, the end looks like it is going to teeter over into a ghoulish bloodbath, but once more the drama moves in an unexpected direction that wrings the emotion out of each situation and character Often hilarious, spectacularly humane and still keeping the bizarre elements in the mix, Noni Stapleton is a rising star who defies the wisdom trotted out in many an Irish kitchen over the years that you can’t have your cake and eat it.
Image by Sally Anne Kelly