4 stars ****
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)
WHO IS Fionnuala, in Donal O’Kelly’s fine and troubling monologue that bears her name? Is she an ancient Irish goddess, fated to care for her three brothers through a millennium of exile from their homeland? Or is she, by chance, a giant tunnel boring machine, unloaded on a dock at Dun Laoghaire, driven across Ireland on a huge low-loader, and brought to the west coast, to drive through some of Ireland’s most fragile and historic landscapes the kind of high-pressure gas pipeline never attempted before, in any inhabited area.
The company in question is Shell, which is indeed constructing such a controvdersial pipeline at the Struwaddacom estuary in Mayo. And in O’Kelly’s monologue, a sweaty Shell PR man called Ambrose Keogh is explaining to a silent colleague exactly what happened, on the night of lashing rain when Fionnuala the machine tipped off her mud-bound lorry on the approach to the construction site and fell into the bog, and Keogh found himself in a fairy ring on the nearby hillside, accounting for himself and his job to both an old school classmate turned anti-gas protestor, and to Fionnuala the goddess herself, who rises out of the land in the form of a sharp-tongued white swan, and demands that he tell the truth, for once.
In a bare 55 minutes, in other words, the magnificent O’Kelly – one of Ireland’s most gifted writer-actors – succeeds in telling a story that is not only gripping, and funny, and full of a rich sense of Ireland’s great tradition of myth and legend, but also ruthlessly precise in its analysis of the deep malaise of 21st century Ireland in its subervient relationship with global corporate power, and of the threats faced by all of us, in an age of ever more desperate energy extraction. In a programme note, O’Kelly says that “the Shell Corrib project has become an iconic example of profit-led corporate supremacy over Irish civil rights.” The joy of the play, though, is that it tell the same truth in a style so wryly magical, and so full of the energy of story, that every second of it entertains, at least as much as it warns, alerts and informs.