I think it’s fair to say that the Irish are famed for their musical and literary prowess almost as much as they are for their drinking habits and four-leafed clovers. From classic figures like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, to poets like Yeats and Heaney, to modern writers like Colm Tóibín and Sally Rooney, they’re just bloody good storytellers. Dylan Coburn Gray is apparently no exception, with his new poem/play Citysong. Telling the story of three generations of an Irish family in beautiful lyrical language, the Abbey Theatre Company, with very basic set and props, etch out decades of history played out in the city of Dublin.
Just six cast members feature in the play, and all play a multitude of characters including a narrator-type figure that guides us through the story. We begin with Bridget and her husband, and follow the eccentric family down through her daughter, Kate, all the way to her grandson, Fionn. Citysong traces the family’s steps through the good and bad that life brings; marriage and divorce, life and death – and beautifully so, but it’s occasionally a little hard to follow.
Coburn Gray’s writing is richly lyrical, which when combined with the thick Irish accents of the performers makes the plot occasionally hard to decipher (although I doubt this is a problem at all for Irish people). Perhaps I’m a bit dim and that’s why I had to pay very close attention to every word spoken, or it may have something to do with the fact that there are also more similes and metaphors in Coburn Gray’s writing than you can shake a stick at. Some are absolutely gorgeous and uniquely convey gut-wrenching emotion, while others feel like a slightly cringey and misguided first attempt at spoken word poetry. If you like similes and metaphors, then you’re in for a treat. If you’re impartial, then you might find yourself tired of the excess of them by about thirty minutes in. The whole thing occasionally crosses the line of clever and into pretentious, or edges into more of a riddle than a rhyme, but the wise, thoughtful moments far outweigh the corny ones.
The cast are strong under Catríona McLaughlin’s direction, seamlessly trading places and picking up from where the other left off. They move as one and help to convey the complex story cohesively, speaking Coburn Gray’s words with power and authenticity. They give us everything from humour to heartbreak, with both Daryl McCormack and Dan Monaghan in particular giving great performances.
Citysong, despite being steeped in metaphor, has a realness to it. It portrays the cyclical nature of life and love and does it charmingly against the bustling backdrop of Dublin. It’s an ode to the great epic poems, and perhaps with a little more clarity and a little less pomp, Citysong could be even more magical and affecting.
Citysong is playing the Soho Theatre until 6 July. For more information and tickets, visit the Soho Theatre website.