Theatre Of The Absurd Stirs Emotions

by Sean Hillen

“Brilliant,” said one companion.

“Tedious,” said another.

“Fifty-fifty,” said the third.

Playwright Sonya Kelly should be intrigued to have created such diverse responses from three people from three different countries to her latest work, ‘The Last Return,’ hosted by the Druid Theatre Company at An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny, Donegal this week.

To some, the play is a terrific theatre of the absurd, zany in the extreme, ultimately reflecting unsavory truths about Mankind. To others, its characters are so unrealistic with actions so far-fetched they induce little understanding or empathy.

Photos by Ste Murray

So what exactly is ‘The Last Return’ to have created such a spectrum of responses from three audience members from widely different backgrounds, not to mention a polite and appreciative standing ovation from many people at the end.

The latest in the Dublin-born writer’s work, her previous plays being ‘The Wheelchair on my Face,’ ‘How to Keep an Alien’ and ‘Furniture,’ this is a 70-minute dark comic satire directed by Sara Joyce and featuring actors Anna Healy, Bosco Hogan, Aidan Moriarty, Rebecca O’Mara and Naima Swaleh.

Kelly deserves kudos for taking a simple micro situation – people queueing in a theatre foyer for return tickets to a musical production – and creating from it a broad social platform dealing with complex social issues such as misogyny, racism and war. One question remains, however: does the playwright try to squeeze too many themes into her work thus unfortunately diluting them all?  

That the musical production all the characters want to see is entitled Oppenheimer’s Return to Hindenburg is a hint something destructive may happen, Oppenheimer being the man who developed the atomic bomb and Hindenberg being an airship that exploded over New Jersey. But I’ll be the first to admit, this knowledge didn’t dawn on me until after the show, and – I sense – for many other people in the audience.

Something destructive does happen in ‘The Last Return.’ In fact, many such things happen but it would be a spoiler to list them here. Suffice to say, play-goers are in for a few surprises, nay shocks, as the action unfolds.

Tensions ratchets up as the characters, including a soldier, a professor and an accountant, vie with each other for precious return tickets in devious ways as the veneer of decorum disintegrates. That such selfish competitiveness reaches a climax is a severe understatement. For the sake of enjoyment, suspension of disbelief is a pre-requisite.

The theme of western dominance and colonisation also features prominently in the play with Swaleh as a Somalian refugee giving her views on centuries of white dominance, “Systems collapse. Chaos prevails. Tyranny takes hold. Then next thing you know… well, I refer you to the last 400 years of European history.”

Enjoy a delightfully humorous monologue by ticket person, Anna Healy, and the visual image of her ‘rising’ to the occasion; the mischievous, machiavellian machinations of O’Mara; the well-conducted grumpiness of Hogan as a stern academic with a bladder problem; and the overwhelming military manners of Moriarty. 

In short, Kelly’s play demonstrates how Man’s nature, stripped of its pseudo-civilised coating, is purely animalistic, a distinct nod to Darwin. So, depending on your view of the world, you might emerge from the theatre either deeply depressed about the state of society or highly enlightened.


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