The Humours of Bandon isn’t quite what its pedigree would suggest. When an internationally-acclaimed solo theatre work travels around the world, there’s an ingrained expectation of a certain scale – either in terms of physical mechanics or the scope of the story told. But, The Humours of Bandon isn’t colossal or wildly far-reaching. It’s a very small story. But, it’s fantastic.
In simple terms, writer and star Margaret McAuliffe’s work is about an Irish teenager’s relationship with Irish dancing. It’s not about a call to greatness. It’s not about a family tradition. It’s not about weathering some grand tragedy through art. It’s one young woman trying to puzzle out just what her passion means to her over a couple of years of growing up.
What really sells it all is the detailed sincerity. It would have been easy for McAuliffe to present a story of larger-than-life characters and inflated drama. Or, to mock the little people of her narrative who are so invested in what even our protagonist acknowledges as a niche pursuit. But, she simply tells a story of a real character with a real passion and tells it with precision and kindness.
The subtle joy of the piece is seeing McAuliffe pull back the curtain on a little understood artform. To many, Irish dancing is simply a generic cliché. A broad symbol of Irish identity. Through the passion and idiosyncrasy of her character, McAuliffe outlines the complex mechanics and appeal of the form. Leaving the theatre, audiences are invited to reconsider their own relationship with their culture.
It’s the type of work that does so much with so little that it’s easy to take the meticulous craft on display for granted. There’s something quietly brilliant in giving the protagonist everything they want halfway through a narrative, for example. And, using the obsessive nature of a character to elegantly deliver exposition and frame the audience’s understanding is exceptionally graceful writing.
It’s just lovely. If you have the opportunity, I’d highly recommend spending some time with the work at your earliest convenience.
MJ O’Neill saw The Humors of Bandon at Brisbane Powerhouse on Thursday 23 May 2019.
Hero image | George Carter
Other images | Maria Falconer