Theatre times: ‘Black Cherry’

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Being a bit of a theatre buff – either front-of- or backstage – I attend a lot of plays and shows, and have met some very interesting and talented people as a result. Being a member of Firedoor Theatre has meant that the majority of my Irish theatre experience backstage has been with this specific group (although it would appear that I am branching out over the summer). As it is a fairly exclusive (in other words small) group, there is a limit on the number of projects that can be staged or promoted fully during the year. People occasionally need to branch out, if and when the opportunity arises. So was the case with one of the stars of the new play ‘Black Cherry’ by Krystal Sweedman, which is being performed as a staged reading, as part of the Scene and Heard Festival, at Smock Alley, on Saturday 17th February at 4pm.

A staged reading in the sense that, while the cast and crew have rehearsed and blocked the piece, it is nonetheless a work in progress – albeit almost stage ready.

I had read an earlier iteration of this play some months ago, as part of the group’s reading evening – a monthly meeting for interested parties to read and discuss plays, whether they be new, original works or previously performed plays. This is a useful platform for a writer to hear some reactions from an audience while a piece is still in development.

Some months later the piece is going on stage as part of the Scene and Heard Festival. One of the stars of my own plays – Geraldine Crowley – is joining the cast of ‘Black Cherry’ for Saturday’s performance (you may remember her from her venomously, vinegar-lipped role of Carol Delaney in the series of short plays I wrote called ‘Mother’s Little Treasure’ (which is currently being adapted into a full length show.)

As I will be traveling to Liverpool this evening for a glamourous weekend of solitary tourism, I asked whether I would be allowed to sit in on a final rehearsal before its Saturday debut. Thankfully my request was accepted. So I went along to the International Bar, where the finishing touches were being applied to the show.

It was a very engaging evening.

In ‘Black Cherry’ Crowley plays the character of Leonie – a successful, Dublin-based sex therapist, who lives a life of comfort with her husband Paul (played by Michael O’Kelly). They live with their teenaged daughter April (played by Hayley McCormack) who is being raised in a very open and nurturing manner, where her opinion is respected, and her parents grant her self-autonomy. However is it all smoke and mirrors? Paul – a seeming pillar of the community has a dark secret. No matter how he tries, he can’t erase the memory of what he has done (or is it a case of what people believe he has done?).  Leonie too seems to be living a life of secrets and lies, that contradict the openness she supports in her practise.  April has been avoiding her mother’s calls for months, an action which is very unlike her.  Leonie needs to find out what is going on.

Without give too much away of the plot, I will just say that this is a very topical and timely piece of work – informed by the current #MeToo movement, and the ongoing conversation about ‘consent’; ‘informed consent’ and date-rape (particularly relevant in light of the ongoing rape trial in Belfast of the two Northern Ireland rugby players accused of raping a nineteen year old woman at a party in 2016 – an allegation that they deny.)

The performances of the three leads are very impressive; and the direction by Lia Caira is very tight, ramping up the tension in the interaction between the character.

From what I have seen when I read the play initially, and from the dress rehearsal last night, this is a very thought-provoking play about a fascinating topic and the sometimes futile attempts by families and society ignore uncomfortable truths about ourselves.

I’d recommend you go see this play at Smock Alley on Saturday 17th February at 4pm. Entrance is €5.

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