Citysong at Soho Theatre
Transferring from the Abbey Theatre Dublin, Citysong, playwright Dylan Coburn Gray’s award-winning play, is almost more of a spoken word piece, checking in on three generations of a Dublin family across one day. But its reach is larger than that of the family saga, using highly stylised language and a dexterous cast of performers to portray the pure sensation of the life cycle.
An impressive backdrop has Dublin built from shards of a mirror, which the cast weave in and out of, using the mirror as a barrier between time and space. Characters come spilling out of Dublin nightclubs, or gossip in school, or throw lustful glances at each other. The sting of days and then months after as one foggy night never leaves you alone. However, the piece’s commitment to poetic language and the monologue hampers formal coherence. As we leap between plotlines and years, Citysong trundles rather than building to a climax. As transmitted through this Greek chorus, the play becomes a collection of close ups. In a signal of our inclusive society, it has become worthwhile zoning into the individual lives of the chorus.
Despite grand ambition, complex language, the production still comes off feeling slight, like an A-level class trying to surmise modern culture without the vocabulary to do so. This low-fi energy works both ways, like a genius bit when porn becomes personified as a leather jacketed, sunglasses-wearing sleazebag. The minimal staging and maximised energy carry off moments that could fall flat in a more austere production, so if they’re an A-Level class, that underdog status is used to their advantage.
Citysong might overreach, but it’s not through lack of skill. The company shift with ease from scene to scene, playing around 60 characters between six performers. Sometimes we lose sight of them, but this contributes to a kaleidoscopic tour around the city. Its more Slacker than Ulysses. The frequent comic scenes, which interrupt the linguistic posturing, are the highlight. The comedy is fast and pointed and well observed, Bláithín Mac Gabhann in particular plays off the audience with ease. But the laughs belie a lack of tonal control that is revealed when the piece veers back into social drama. When one character speaks in Irish, the audience laugh savagely and it’s unclear at what exactly.
Monologue after monologue, some evocative, like the late-night cab shifts that suggest the dark underbelly of the city. Through sheer repetition, the play lacks the desired emotional payoff. It’s the same problem that hampered the Barbican’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers earlier this year. The company are superb and Coburn Gray’s use of voice is a feat, but by its conclusion Citysong winds up feeling rote and apolitical.
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Citysong is at Soho Theatre from 12th June until 6th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.