No One Is Coming (Bitesize) at Riverside Studios – Review – ★★★★
A solo storytelling masterclass from Sinéad O’Brien, combining Irish folklore with home truths in an exploration of the family ties that bind us.
Mental health and addiction may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Irish folklore. In fact, you may know very little about Irish folklore full stop, in which case Sinéad O’Brien’s approach to entwining mythical tales between anecdotes about her own childhood and relationship with her parents may be a tad daunting.
Relax. This is not a random juxtaposition of topics, thrown together without thought – nor, in O’Brien’s supremely capable hands, is a sudden immersion into Irish legend discombobulating. Quite the opposite – O’Brien pulls off the most organic of cold opens, greeting her audience and transitioning seamlessly into storytelling mode. You’re hanging on every word before you even realise the performance has begun.
O’Brien alternates between stories about her parents, and in particular her mother, and tales from Irish mythology. At first, the latter seem disconnected but nevertheless charming. As the show progresses, parallels between the mythical realm and O’Brien’s own reality become clearer. It’s cleverly done, challenging the audience to hold the threads together, all with a gentle smile and genuine, radiating warmth.
A less assured performer, with less affecting material, might struggle to hold the attention of an audience who are expected to leap from reality to unreality with barely a pause in between. O’Brien knows what she’s doing, though, and has a way of drawing you forward in your seat without ever playing any obviously manipulative tricks.
No One Is Coming is straightforward, stripped back storytelling at its best – captivating and impactful without resorting to shock and awe, or smoke and mirrors. Shows like this make you wish every piece of theatre was just 50 minutes long – O’Brien achieves in less than an hour what many performers take twice as long striving for.
Empathy and fantasy combine to tell a gutsy story of the survival of self.
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