Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,


Rory O’Sullivan reviews the compelling ‘It Is Good We Are Dreaming’ at the New Theatre, Dublin: Western ennui, our heads and our exterior faces



These days normally we divide the world into halves: one which is inside our imagination, and another which is real and outside of us.


The first half includes things like love, sentiment, beauty, laughter, and is necessary for our own sanity but a dangerous falsity; the second is bare and severe, a brutal volcanic eruption of the elements on the periodic table, spilling over themselves onto the ground, life as a devouring tapeworm in the stomach of a small child.


Historically, ideas tend to have been veiled behind opposed contradictories. Here and now these two things: the blissful dream and the terrible sober waking morning, only seem to be in conflict with each other, but in fact they are mutually supporting.


Hedonism has power only because it is considered the sole alternative to what Kurtz saw: “The horror! The horror!”.


On the other hand, hedonism tranquillises people and stops them from fighting for the world, or even just looking out at it for themselves: it allows a certain image of the ‘real’ world to be forced on people as if it were something beyond their capacity even to observe.


Pages and pages have been written on the malaise – depression, anxiety, indifference – characterising young life in the contemporary West.


Malaise for example is at the core of Sally Rooney’s books. But the heart of this malaise is a belief, which goes by the name of ‘unbelief’, that the world is simply a horror from which our only refuge is one or another variety of hedonism.


Baudelaire’s word for that malaise was “ennui”.  The great French critic, Sainte-Beuve, horrified with Baudelaire’s poetry, wrote that it was “where the pleasure of ornament is united with self-inflicted torture”: “the extreme point of the Romantic Kamchatka [in furthest Russia]”.


But now ennui has become the frozen climate of every city that calls itself ‘Western’.


But now ennui has become the frozen climate of every city that calls itself ‘Western’.


The greatness of the sadly missed cultural theorist Mark Fisher was to perceive this, which he called “Capitalist Realism” – neither a political nor artistic strictly speaking, but a spiritual phenomenon.  It is about our current collective relationship with the real.


In this play, ‘It Is Good We Are Dreaming’, written by Ultan Pringle, directed by Julia Appleby, staged by Lemonsoap Productions in the New Theatre, the spiritual disaster of our age is perfectly visible.


The characters are 20-something Fionn, 30-something Fiadh, and their absent offstage mother -with the voice of Fionnuala Murphy which has its moments but is sometimes too hushed like the whisper of Gollum.  They are caught between the fantastical and purple poetic stories their mother told them and believed (in particular that the love of her life was a stone man she met once by the sea), and their grim and loveless daily existences.


They do not recognise how much these have in common: like a screen, each half prevents the characters from understanding the true nature of the other.


Fionn and Fiadh are consistent, believable, and well-drawn as a dichotomy: two alternative responses to the mother’s principled choice of a life of destructive fantasy at the cost of her children.


The performances (by Laoise Murray and Luke Dalton) are compelling, but sometimes too comfortable: they should be more desperate, more anxious.


The difficult thing about any relationship like theirs is that the two people cannot find their level.  They love each other but do not know how to love each other.  They know one another perfectly in a sense but not at all in others, so that naturally they always say too little or too much and they offend and are offended, and they know that this will happen for as long as they continue talking.  This makes talking as unbearable as silence: that is why things are hard for them.


These performances were not tense enough; but in other ways they achieved a great deal.


The audience feels like they know Fiadh and Fionn and their mother by the end – these people are all out there, we have met them, but they have not previously been on stage or brought together artistically.


The production has altogether managed a creative, compelling and emotive story that feels like it is already happening somewhere at a kitchen table — two things hold it back, one smaller and the other bigger.


The production has altogether managed a compelling and emotive story that feels like it is already happening somewhere at a kitchen table.


A creative and interesting play, overall – two things hold it back, one smaller and the other bigger.


The first is that the dialogue is sometimes too conscious of the audience: the seeding of expository details is a bit rough especially at the beginning, and later on the abrupt changes of tense, as Fionn or Fiadh launches into describing a scene from their childhood, jar.  They are moments when the play steps out of itself inadvertently.


The second is that the play has not been put together with a rigorous enough sense of what it means for something to be beautiful. The reason why the parts when the mother speaks – and the ones where Fionn and Fiadh describe their dreams – are so easily dismissed as purple passages or empty fantasies is that, essentially, they are.  They invent an alternative reality and sit back finding that beautiful, which is the easy and corrosive thing, rather than making the actual world beautiful and strange as it is in front of us.


This is nothing to do with fantasy as a literary genre (c.f. the books of Ursula Le Guin). It is everything to do with fantasy as an escape into meaninglessness.


Some of the writing in these dreamy passages is like simulated poetry: plenty of stars and meadows, a great deal of romantic love and feeling ‘whole’ as if cross-legged on the rose-petals with Dante’s God.


It is tempting to suggest some further reading as a cure to this disease of false beauty. For example: Dostoyevsky’s two good novels, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’; Rilke’s poems and letters; and Simone Weil’s notebooks.


But the answer is there in the play itself, near the end, after Fionn has thrown something against the wall and he and Fiadh stand there in silence.


Sometimes silence is a superficial thing people use in places where they do not know what to say; here it is rich and significant.


This is a promising early effort by a young playwright, cast and crew.


I hope that in the future, not just in plays but in their own hearts, they will lean into that silence more and trust it, because it is their best resource.


‘It Is Good We Are Dreaming’, written by Ultan Pringle, directed by Julia Appleby, staged by Lemonsoap Productions, is running in the New Theatre in Dublin until 11 June.