No One is Coming

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

Five stars

Sinéad O’Brien is stellar. This is storytelling as it should be: moving, dynamic and constantly unraveling before you. You can’t just picture every word she says, you feel everything too. I feel grateful to have seen it and it’s an afternoon I won’t be forgetting.

There’s no set, just Sinéad, her chair and a small torch on the ground for use later. Upstairs in a baking room of the Storytelling Centre library you watch one girl lament her childhood, interlacing her own stories with rich interspersions of great Irish mythology. She’s personable and incredibly watchable - softly spoken with a striking face animated by grief and passion. The atmosphere and tale were heady with the presence of Sinéad’s story mixed with the heat outside. It worked to enhance what she told us and I was lost in her.

She starts with an audition by the Liffey one morning; she’s lighthearted, joking that actors shouldn’t work before 10 am and finishes her sentences smiling with eyes that sparkle. Her hopeful outlook is palpable.Sinéad takes us on her desperate scavenge for all the distractions Dublin can offer, as she anxiously awaits a callback. She bumps into an old friend and is swept through to the city to a new metal gig. Our ethereal Sinéad is out of place amongst ‘old punks’ and the grime of the place, but she wants to embrace the newness. As she elbows through the crowd smiling and soaks in the gig, she gets a phone call that alters her tale.

Her mother has been arrested under the 2001 Mental Health Act. A relentless guard officer is on the phone and needs her to come down to the station across town and answer questions. Sinéad’s whimsical disposition shifts and she looks different. Her pace slows down and her poise drops. She informs the officer that she and her mother are estranged.

That’s a big word with big meaning, and she learned its weight in her teens. She left home at 17 to live with her father in an attempt to reclaim the time she had to lose. Her mother’s deteriorating mental health ate away at her childhood, and we’re now watching it nibble at her still. As Sinéad hangs up the phone and goes back to the gig, her distracted hope dissolves and she goes into herself more than before. She isn’t open to absorbing new experiences now. What was porous is now hardened and impenetrable. Sinéad will now tell us about her past.

Her tale is dark and deep. Her childhood is steeped in trauma. We watch her feel the effects of her parent’s divorce; at 13, she thought it was trendy, and American, with the Bill just being passed in Ireland, but now she knows it’s something she’ll never understand or heal from. She’ll never know which side to believe: her mother’s ‘allegations’ or her father’s ‘honesty’? Sinéad seems as though she could buckle under the weight of her story, but is held up by the beloved mythology she retells for us. It’s in these moments that the hope and wit take focus and she performs openly with her whole body, reenacting tales of Cú Chulainn, Emer, Ulster and more. She is captivating.

No One is Coming is described as a ‘love letter to her mother’ that Sinéad will never send. The love is in the story’s craft, depth and rich telling. A story this intensely sensitive could not exist without love. As Sinéad’s red eyes prick with tears in her final words, you realise the power of what you’ve watched and feel her love that is all encompassing. She embodies the Irish heroines she tells us about: long dark hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and unflinching bravery without losing that prized ability to feel it all.


Roundabout, Summerhall

Four stars

A play breaking down class, gender and sexuality, soundtracked by a live garage DJ? And it’s performed by acclaimed company Paines Plough in its touring Roundabout theatre tent? I was so excited to see this one, and it was a ‘banger’ as the name suggested (kindly mind the pun). Definitely catch this if you can - it’s selling out and a full Roundabout tent is a brilliant atmosphere.

Bangers centres around two protagonists, Aria and Cleff. At first, we know them as strangers with little in common but their urban London setting. I was sat in the tent, humming to the throwback tunes of our DJ narrator (Duramaney Kamrara), watching the two on stage and wondering just how the twin stories would cross. The unfolding story is suspended in anticipation as we wait to discover when their paths meet. And it’s a twist that won’t disappoint.

Aria (Danusia Samal, also the writer) is a young woman lost in a job that doesn’t satisfy her and stuck in a relationship that can’t fulfill her: she can’t open herself up to things, to life, not anymore. Cleff (Jim Caesar) is in his final year of school and torn between staying home to make music with his best friend or going to university, as his mother wishes. He’s recently lost his father, the man he idolises, and the grief is making everything so much harder. The pair meet one fateful night in nightclub the Ministry Of Sound - where else? - and end up learning they have the answers each other needs, in ways you won’t expect.

The script is wonderfully crafted and the best thing about the production. The verse is striking and a triumph of wordsmithery. Its full rhyming pattern dips and weaves - you think you know where it’s going and it rips that certainty from under you. It’s funny, touching, overt, nuanced, deep in image and bluntly rhythmic. The actors have mastered its capability and are able to be playful with their worded instrument. The performances are poetic, without feeling like spoken word (thank goodness), and natural whilst still elevated in the abstract rhyme scheme. The beats of the soundtrack harmonise with the script perfectly. You could keep listening all night.

The Herald: Danusia Samal in Bangers at SummerhallDanusia Samal in Bangers at Summerhall (Image: Summerhall)

Caesar’s performance has such a glorious range and I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots of him everywhere soon. He’s hilarious as Aria’s ‘oldest’ (not best) friend Bex, embodying the girl we’ve all met in the club toilets: preaching ‘I hate men’ as she lends you her lip gloss and hypes you up, only to go back to a dull relationship with a dull man, ditching you on the dancefloor. He walks with gorgeous, feminine swagger and his London city-girl accent is perfect - I was belly laughing. He’s also sensitive, and heart-wrenching as Aria’s father. Chris Sonnex has directed him perfectly. His voice melts across the backing track as he sings to his daughter. It’s a stunning moment.

Bangers isn’t a play about music, though they’re important elements. It’s a play supercharged by music (note the character names), but the characters are vehicles for the story music can tell, and not the other way round. It’s a fun piece, not to be underestimated for its power. It tackles huge themes perfectly and the main characters are fully-formed and brought to life. Some moments don’t land as well as others, but the skill shown in Samal’s writing hails supreme.

Until August 27

Grace Sansom is working with The Herald for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's prestigious Emerging Critics Scheme