I wasn’t sure what to make of Mudslide. However, this may not necessarily be a bad thing: with its repetitive stage directions, arresting moments of tension, and strangely divided plot, instant clarity is most likely not what directors Elissa Watters and Ursula Mcginn were aiming for.
The play opens on three generations of women. As her mind slips away, the grandmother figure (Sarah Healy) confronts fragmented memories of a history of violence and loss. Her adult daughter Deirdre (Aisling Esmonde), haunted by an absent husband, is left to manage her mother’s often distressing senility. In turn, Deirdre’s teenage daughter Alanna, played by Alice Marr, deals with resentment towards her father and miscommunications with her mother and grandmother. However, halfway through, the focus of the play switches to three men: two of them a father and son (Jack Mulligan and Damian Gildea, respectively) who rarely talk as they pass a rugby ball back and forth. However, a similar history of an unwanted marriage at a young age emerges, and the third man (Donal Foley) acts out a disturbing encounter with a priest, presumably set in the past.
Much is left ambiguous. The performances were convincing enough to sustain what would otherwise appear at times as a contrived premise. Healy’s portrayal of the grandmother was poignant, hovering between delusional, babbling, and oddly poetic reminiscence. Marr was natural as the young daughter, for the most part avoiding melodrama. As the mother figure, Esmonde’s character served an important function as a foil to the tension around her. Dialogue dwindled in the second half of the play in favour of startling physicality and a constantly changing pattern of blocking. Mulligan and Gildea made a credible effort at the more violent lines, and they sustained an impressive energy throughout.
If the disparity of character development between the first and second halves was a comment on stereotypes of repression and stoicism attached to traditional Irish masculinity, it was a cleverly placed technique. It could equally be argued that the two parts of the play contrast the verbal with the physical. However, if neither of these techniques is intentional, then we would have to admit that the play lacks symmetry. There were some interesting parallels between the two domestic settings, such as a scene involving biscuits repeated by both groups. Props such as the rugby ball and the cup of tea tied the performance together with a pervasive sense of surrealism.
The use of space was innovative, and the minimal set assumed several forms, often taking on the visual power of an installation as when beer bottles were placed about the stage, or a hopscotch course was chalked on the ground. Sound effects were at times gratuitous: the extremely loud gunshots which punctuated the dialogue, for example, or the use, at one point, of a deafening recording of cheers from a rugby crowd, took away from the otherwise powerful effect of the performance.
However, Mudslide succeeded in conveying a host of themes intrinsic to Ireland’s cultural identity: a turbulent past, a tradition kept alive through language and song, the tension between old and new ways of life, and the sense of desertion inevitable in times of change. A puzzling, disorienting, thought-provoking performance, Mudslide certainly leaves an impression.
Alicia Byrne Keane