Review: Killymuck

Aoife Lennon in KIllymuck, by Enniskillen writer Kat Woods, which is in Armagh’s Market Place Theatre on June 15
Jane Hardy

Killymuck, Kat Woods' play which premiered this week at the MAC, is horribly topical.

It opens with an audio clip of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 observing that many of Britain's cities looked as if they were "under siege".

We hear our narrator-heroine Niamh being born, a child of austerity. Then we're introduced to the world of the supposedly undeserving underclass, the benefits families. The observational comedy here is sharp, with better off families boasting fridge freezers full of goodies like oven chips. The fictional estate seems real, alive but full of bad dreams. In fact, Niamh and sister Roisin think the whole place may be hexed. We hear the litany of problems afflicting families backed by clever sound effects.

"I don't know where I fit," Niamh says despairingly. That's because her father, an alcoholic, was originally middle-class but has slipped down the social scale.

What is fascinating is the way Ms Woods segues from Killymuck to a series of political mini-lectures about the way money and class affect children's future. The lights come back on for these ideological, well delivered passages (illuminating this reviewer's notebook and biro). We easily return, though, to Woods' imagined funny, sad and realistically foul-mouthed world. The f-word hasn't been deployed so effectively since Gary Mitchell wrote Trust.

The method is Brechtian and it's a tribute to Woods' play writing ability that we move in and out of the fourth wall easily. Niamh later backs up the argument about deprivation by noting that at her school Irish was only taught in private lessons to the well off kids. "Did they think we wouldn't notice?" she asks with a moving expression. She's an actor with a wonderfully mobile face that registers fleeting emotions.

The statistics and research she quotes are chilling. At the end she asks the voters watching to grill politicians at the next election. Ask for equity, not equality, is her rallying cry. We got sketches on a white board to bear out the point that inequity at the start creates inequality at the finish. "Find out what programmes they have", she says with passion.

But Killymuck is not just a party political piece and contains real humanity. Niamh's account of flunking her 11-plus is deeply felt.

There are some lyrical passages too in Niamh's story of growing up in a dysfunctional set-up and being called Horsehead by the teenage boys. She rhapsodizes about the flowers and rockery in next door's garden, owned by the neighbourhood prostitute Sharon. Babysitting her kids, she discovers a pornographic video in a very funny scene. The children wake up and glimpse the risque material. Niamh says she'd never seen her mother so angry with her afterwards. Next Sunday it's obligatory Mass. The poignant passages, including the horrific tale of nice babysitter Nicola who died after being unable to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, work superbly.

Finally, though, it's all about the daddy, an early Father's Day tribute. Having escaped the estate via education and teachers who spotted her potential, Niamh learns her abusive, drunk, yet ultimately loved father has been stabbed to death. Her grief is real and moving and palpable. Unsurprisingly, Ms Woods performance has been shortlisted for the Filipa Braganca acting award.

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