Monday, July 20, 2009

Rihla (Journey 6): Ireland – Gigli in Galway

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This one is about Galway, Ireland.

I went to the gala opening, on Friday July 17th, of the revamped Druid Theatre here in Galway. I say revamped deliberately, as the building has a very confined footprint, and the architects have managed to sex it up with a very sleek and modern foyer below, a rehearsal room above while at the same time maintaining an incredibly intimate and effective theatre space. The play that was chosen to relaunch the Druid was the Gigli Concert by Tom Murphy, one of Ireland’s best living playwrights. The stage management, the acting, the tempo and the lighting were ultra professional and slick. The play? I am not entirely certain.

The central character is an English new-age ‘ologist’ fallen into an age-old trap of alcoholism. His fuelled, deranged and displaced psychosis creates two characters – a melancholic and manic-depressive real estate developer, and a child-yearning nymphomaniac with an imaginary god-child – whose actions and interactions are sub-consciously theraputic, and yet in an unusual twist of his psychosis he has these characters transfer their own longings back to him. Hence his desire to sing like Gigli, to break his five years of celibacy. The play is a highly intellectual, and Murphy has created an almost clinically detached and impressive exposition of some of the pathological pathways of alcoholic dementia. Not everyone’s ‘cup-of-tea’ it must be said. Perhaps it is me, but none of the characters, real or imaginary, evoked any empathy on my part. I really did not care what happened to them, but wished for a pharmacological hammer blow to stop the rot. As it happened – thank you Dr Murphy – the central character in an attempt at suicide managed to take enough sedatives to jerk him back into a temporary reality and he leaves, suitcase and bottle in hand.

I was glad of the wine waiting for me at the end.

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