Theatre Editor KIERAN CORCORAN is captivated by the Irish National Theatre’s masterful medley of monologues.

Cambridge Arts Theatre Irish National Theatre kieran corcoran Mark O'Rowe Terminus tour

Cambridge Arts Theatre, 28th-30th April, 7.45pm, £10-25

Directed by Mark O’Rowe


In 2008 playwright and director Mark O’Rowe told The New York Times “if you can tell it well enough, you can go anywhere with this.” He was talking about Terminus, and he’s damn right.

The play’s scope is audacious. There’s demons, sex with demons, backstreet abortions, car chases and murders. A protagonist dies hanging from a crane by his intestines, singing Wind Beneath My Wings.

The catch – or rather the glory – is that these events are narrated rather than performed. Three interwoven monologues carry the audience on demonic wings through a spectacular, fantastical Dublin night.

Rather than ruin a production by trying to stage the unstageable, Terminus couches its otherwise impossible events in O’Rowe’s supple and thrillingly modern verse. Prolific rhyme, assonance and alliteration give the monologues an uncanny vividness – effortlessly they hold the performance together, unaided by the wild dashing about or stage wizardry which might usually lead a reviewer to deem a play ‘exciting’.

Ditch any preconceptions you may entertain of rhymed dramatic verse being stuffy or archaic. They were stupid preconceptions anyway. O’Rowe’s vernacular versification incorporates Pringles and penetration, tragedy and taxis; and it flows with the ease of common speech. Exhilaratingly profane in places, it’s the ideal medium for his story’s combination of the mundane and the magical.

The three protagonists are flatly named A, B and C – but the hugely idiosyncratic characterisation lavished upon each belies these generic tags. A (Olwen Fouéré) gives the standout performance – her expert pacing and broad expressive range are well-suited to this style of delivery. She provides the sharpest moments of comedy too, and manages to maintain an endearingly grounded perspective on her extraordinary journey.

C (Declan Conlon) is a tad more difficult to relate to – but the character is a murderer and a sociopath, so it’s probably for the best. The trail of destruction he leaves, accompanied by frank and irreverent internal monologue, is reminiscent of Sin City. That’s a good comparison to be able to make. And he didn’t even have any CGI.

Catherine Walker, B, is weakest of the three, which is a shame as she has the most fantastical leg of the story to tell. Her performance, while competent, doesn’t engender the same rapture as the other two. But her falling slightly short really only emphasises the generally stellar quality of the whole production.

Photographs by Johan Persson

It takes a lot to wrestle a half-star out of me, but Terminus has managed. For all its brilliance and imagination, an hour and forty minutes is a long time to stay captivated by what is, fundamentally, one speaker at a time not moving very much. The show largely transcends the limitations of its form, but sometimes the veneer slips and the engine stutters. Occasionally the poetry felt contrived.

But these moment are rare, and the play remains overwhelmingly captivating – it stakes out its territory and holds it with striking singularity of purpose. Terminus makes you wonder why there aren’t more shows like it.

There’s actually a very simple answer – it’s a bloody difficult thing to do well. With the script under constant scrutiny and the actors, one at a time, under intense pressure, there’s no room for failure, no theatrical fluff to fall back on. Which is all the more reason to take advantage of the colossal expertise of the Irish National Theatre enacting what is, at its core, a glorious reaffirmation of the power of the human voice.