Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reviews for Broken Croí/Heart Briste - a bilingual play, 2009


Broken Croí/Heart Briste  ***  'Why do Irish people find their alleged native tongue a difficult language, wonders muinteoir Manchán Magan? With the audience cast as slow pupils at a lecture that isn’t ag obair, he dons a kilt and a chainsaw, both comedy green, and frogmarches his own daughter (the magnificently mutinous Eva O’Connor) out on stage to help.
Part lesson, part drama, 50 per cent as gaeilge, 50 per cent in English, in a nimble comic double act, family dynamics soon overwhelm any official attempt to impart vocabulary – she is all subversive rage, he is worried, trying to unravel the reason for one of her recent particularly drunken nights out. In the ensuing revelation, the audience will learn words few school teachers ever taught, although to this pupil’s dismay, no one thought to translate the absurd highlight of a lighthearted evening: “The dispossessed under Ceaucescu are screaming!”  (Or maybe they did) Until Sat'.  
Paula Shields, Irish Times

“One can imagine that most of the audience who took to their seats at the start of Manchán Magan’s bilingual play-cum-class about the Irish language did so with a certain amount of trepidation, tensed up about a possible airing of the modh coinníollach that sticky conditional tense, or just nervous of finding out how woeful their grasp of the national language has become.
But instead of being trí na chéile, Magan and his precocious co-actor, Eva O’Connor, swept the crowd along in a short provocative exercise designed, mar dhea, to impart the cúpla focal  but in reality used as a vessel for a dramatic story. Magan, decked-out in self-mocking green kilt and blazer, festooned in Celtic broaches, set about his teaching exercise with earnestness. Occasionally, a screen at the back of the sparse stage relayed his words and their translation in a clever piece of teaching assistance. Quickly the personal began to invade proceedings as he unveiled the details of the collapse of his marriage and subsequent divorce from a ‘bitseach’, the Gaelic word for a type of woman we are all familiar with.  O’Connor played the disaffected teenage daughter of Magan with gusto, ridiculing his fey attempts at pedagogy – revealing, at one stage, that ‘múin’, the root of the verb to teach also means ‘to urinate’ as béarla – before unravelling the secrets of her love life in a gripping finale.”
4 Stars. Richard Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner

‘When Manchán Magan developed his story Broken Croí – Heart Briste with distinguished director Tom Creed in an attempt to use ‘Irish in theatre without alienating those who don’t speak it’, he, nonetheless, probably wasn’t counting on many Brits turning  up, least of all a reviewer.
Bounding on to the sparse stage, our lecturer Magan becomes increasingly angry when the audience’s grasp of the mother tongue isn’t up to scratch. And so he starts over, the format changing to a language class that quickly goes awry when he calls upon stroppy pupil (Eva O’Connor) to aid his manifesto. O’Connor while shrill at times, does a sterling job as the tragic little madam, her chemistry with Magan resulting in genuine pathos at the end, and her dance sequence is potent. Magan has the audience eating out of his hand from the get-go, but really earns his acting stripes during the duologues as Gaeilge.
Yes, Broken Croí is absolutely alienating if you’ve never learned Irish at school – and possibly for those with only basic understanding. Approach the play almost like an opera, though – there are even surtitles, of a sort – and absorb the language’s rhythms and repetitions, and you won’t feel too much like you’ve gatecrashed the wrong party.’
Lucy, White, METRO, Sept 18th 2009

‘There’s something very familiar about this room. I can’t be sure exactly what it is though. Could it be the uncomfortable seats or the rows and rows of faces etched with trepidation? No, they’ve something to do with it alright but it isn’t until I spot the chainsaw-wielding, kilt-wearing Irish teacher that I realise I’ve just woken up in the most clichéd of nightmares. At least this time I’m wearing clothes I suppose. So begins Broken Croí – Heart Briste, which sees TG4 presenter Manchán Magan and Eva O’Connor star in the tale of an Irish lesson gone horribly wrong.
The lesson begins relatively easily with Magan asking the audience to translate some simple Irish words back into English. Cluas means ear, doras means door. Simple stuff; I can feel myself relaxing already. Then we get to the letter F and no matter what word Magan throws at us there isn’t a person in the room who can translate. He loses his temper and looks for a volunteer from the audience to help him with the remainder of the lesson.  He points to a girl in the crowd and beckons the cailín to the front of the stage. For a few heart-stopping moments you can almost hear the girl think ‘Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, why me; what’s he going to ask me?’ She’s safe enough though, as Eva O’Connor, playing the role of Cailín, slowly makes her way to the front of the class where the real performance is about to begin.
What’s truly fascinating about Broken Croí – Heart Briste is the sheer number of issues covered by Magan and O’Connor.
Relationships, mental illness, alcohol and sexual abuse are all dealt with in great detail over the course of 50 minutes. Throughout though, the Irish language, and its foibles, is the thread that binds these disparate tangents together. Initially, we’re told that Irish is an easy language and one that we shouldn’t be scared of. Yet, as the play develops, we find that it’s a rather curious beast that can be used for some devious word play. For example, we learn that, phonetically, there is little to differentiate múinteoir (teacher) múnteoir (piss-taker).  Later, O’Connor’s character declares that she ‘felt like cac’ (pronounced cock, but meaning shit) much to Magan’s character’s distain.  That particular declaration comes at a time in the performance when the relationship between the pair’s characters is at its most fractious.
As they argue, we learn that there are few things that Magan’s múinteoir loves more than Irish. You can almost see his face recoil in disgust each time he has to translate as Béarla for his audience. It is not a love shared by O’Connor’s character. She struggles to understand the way the language is though and laughs about how teenagers only ever talk about issues like teen pregnancy when it comes up as a topic during the Irish oral exam. The Irish language is dying for her, as is her relationship with Magan’s character.  Ultimately, this is because she feels he cares more about the language than her. How they attempt to repair this relationship forms the basis of Broken Croí’s final act and this is where O’Connor’s talent as an actress comes to the fore.
While Magan and O’Connor combine with excellent comedic timing in the earlier parts of the play, it is the latter’s portrayal of a teenager on the brink and struggling to come to terms with her place in the world that steals the show. Her character’s pain, self-loathing and wanton self-destruction are expressed through both delicate movement and harsh tones. Despite her obvious pain, it makes for riveting viewing.
Overall, Broken Croí – Heart Briste is much more than just a play about the Irish language. It is a comedic and heartfelt look at fractured relationships that utilises the dexterity of the language to bring the story to life.’
Steven O’Rourke, Oh Francis  ( issue 10)

It is the cultural tragedy of our times the way our national tongue has been allowed to slip from what should be a subject of pride to a weapon of prejudice, used to mock and alienate those who may or may not have the ability to speak it. Purged from the national psyche by the English and beaten back in by the Christian Brothers it now occupies a no mans land of country bumpkins, Fenian-like student societies and the odd fecker who might actually take some joy in speaking the thing. I blame its condition, as I do most of life’s little, large and every other kind of problem in between,  on the teachers, who through intimidation and fear- and with the aid of the worlds dullest syllabus- have constructed a wall around a language that should come as easy as the a,b, c for the natives of this land.
And it’s with the a,b,c that Manchan Magan begins his excellent bi-lingual show Broken Croi/ Heart Briste which is one half Irish language lesson, one half smack down feel the pain on the pretensions of those who perpetuate to love “an gaeilge” but are helping destroy it.
It’s simply set. A pair of mikes, a white floor and a screen against the back wall. Our muinteor is dressed in white and is the jovial sort, running through the alphabet and teaching us the words we’ll need to see us through the show. A is for anam(soul), b is for bolag(stomach) and the like. It’s when we get to F( for frachnearchas) that his facade begins to slip. When it becomes apparent that not only does this audience have less than a sturdy grip on the cupla fuchail, in fact they have none at all, he goes off the deep end, storming of the stage reemerging as a modern-day Padraig Pearse, in a kilt and Celtic cross encrusted jacket.
Marching around like the tyrannical teachers we’ve all suffered through , he stares directly down upon us, instilling the fear of god in a crowd who can never quite tell if they are supposed to respond or if it’s all part of the act. It’s thrilling theatre and it transported me back to the hellish sleepless nights dominated by thoughts of Peig Sayers.
But the show really comes alive when he plucks a planted helper from the audience( played, sublimely, by Eva O Connor). As the old Irish squares up to the new we are taken on a hilarious, informative and, on occasion, uncomfortable trip through the linguistic looking-glass discovering the multiple meanings, double entente’s and styles that make up the language and the way its thought. It’s also laced with profanity so anyone who likes to pardon their french should come armed with a notebook.
There is a sub plot, where Muinteor tries to discover the reason his prize pupil Cailin was found in the bath with her dress above her waist, that uses the impracticalities of the “beal trial” in a practical way and also combines one words meaning in Irish with its meaning in English to devastating effect.
Neither performance is undermined by mugging for the audience when they know a laugh is coming,  which has become standard practice for many established Irish actors, and both are so natural on stage it beggars belief  that his is the first theatrical performance by either.
Nominated for best actor and best supporting actress at the Irish Times Theatre Award and nominated for Fishamble New Writing & Bewleys Cafe Theatre Award 2009 this is a show that is of vital importance for the function it could perform both for the language and bilingual theatre in Ireland. Were it let!
Caomhan Keane, Totally Dublin, 24 March 2010

Broken Croí/Heart Briste is a dramatic and linguistic experiment. Written and performed by Manchán Magan, it seeks to investigate the limitations of language as a means of communication and the limitations of the Irish language in contemporary theatrical culture. As the spliced title suggests, the play is written in Irish and English, though a stream of invective neologisms in both languages points towards the instability of language as a system of meaning. As René Magritte scrawled across the bottom of his eponymous landmark postmodern painting 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' (This is not a pipe); language is an arbitrary thing.
Broken Croí/Heart Briste is structured as a Irish-language lesson, and Magan plays a chain-saw-wielding, be-kilted Múinteoir determined to teach a mute audience cúpla focail. Unable to find a volunteer, he plucks a surly teenager from the audience; a young cailín (Eva O'Connor) with a short-skirted uniform and a full bottom lip. As she turns his efforts into a language game, a whole new perspective on the Irish language emerges - one that is fresh, contemporary and, almost, dare I say it, cool. Cailín can pun any familiar word into a curse (did you know the verb to teach in Irish - múin - is the same word as piss?), while there is true innovation in adopting the Valley Girl drawl of contemporary Irish teenagers into Gaeilge. Cad-ever and dárirír-iously are just two to keep on file.
However, Cailín's linguistic tricks also have deeper meaning, moving the play from mere language game into emotional exploration. As the real nature of the relationship between teacher and pupil is revealed (father-daughter/athair-iníon) the play becomes a meditation on language's limits. Mis-communication, indeed a desire not to communicate at all, is at its core; language obfuscates as much as it reveals. This theme is poignantly reinforced by Cailín's dance, a transcendent moment in which, to quote Brian Friel in Dancing at Lughnasa, "language is no longer necessary." (It would be to overstate the intellectual weight of Broken Croí/Heart Briste to suggest that first-time playwright Magan is of the same calibre as Friel, but the themes of the play also evoke parallels with Translations).
There are some core problems with the production, despite the fact that this is Broken Croí/Heart Briste's second outing (it premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival in September 2009). Magan is not an actor, and while his awkwardness can be written into the subtext of his character, in the post-dramatic moments forced into the dramatic structure (the requisite greeting of the audience before the show, the gestures towards audience inclusion) he is visibly uncomfortable; if you invoke audience response you need to be prepared to improvise and Magan does not seem confident enough to manouevre beyond the script. The use of translation tools on powerpoint display is also inconsistent, and trails off. The end too is abrupt and unsatisfactory: at 45-minutes long the play impressively does feel like a complete entity, but having interpolated so many fussy post-modern elements into the performance, the stylistic interventions never quite pay off for the audience.
All that said, Broken Croí/Heart Briste is probably the most accessible and interesting Irish language play since Máire Ní Ghráda's 1963 play An Triail. And it is accessible to a non-Irish-speaking audience, as the positive feedback from the American audience members at a post-show discussion on the first night testified. Most importantly, it is also accessible to teenagers, as my two teenage guests confirmed. Indeed, considering that - for better or worse - it is through the education system that the Irish language finds its dominant home, Broken Croí/Heart Briste is even more important than the sum of its sometimes slight parts might suggest it to be. A Leaving Cert curriculum - indeed a whole generation - might be inspired if they had access to material as relevant as this.
Sara Keating, 15th March 2010, Irish Theatre Magazine

'Tuesday evening saw us in Filmbase for the 7pm show Broken Croí/Heart Briste, the dual language show that I was quite excited about seeing. Could a Fringe show be done through Irish? Not much to go on from the programme, but on starting, it became soon clear that we were in an Irish lesson given by someone who was very passionate about Gaeilge, how simplí it all was and how much we, na daoine, were going to enjoy it.
We started with an A,B,C – A for Anam, the soul. B for Bolg, the stomach or gut. C for Cailleach, the Crone or Wise Woman. D for doras, E for éist and then we went into F for fulladóireacht, for foireachas and for the sheer frustration of our Irish muinteoir bringing us though some impossibly difficult Irish until he brought his pupil to the stage. What evolved was an intelligent though harrowing piece of drama where the conversation went from ag foghlaim gaeilge (learning Irish) to the foul language of youth, to finding out about your family and yourself and the intricacises and common factors of the Irish language, how simple and difficult all at once that it is.
While the girls I was with didn’t particularly love the show – Steph’s review is here – I really enjoyed the play on words, how the actors – Manchán Mangan and Eva O Connor – interacted and used the language to tell the story. I learned a lot about Irish, I learned a number of Irish phrases I didn’t know and I felt for the characters – something that can be quite difficult in such a hostile, artificial environment. I’d recommend the plkay to those who want to be challenged, who love what language can do and who have a ghrá for Gaeilge. Ros na Rún this is not.'
Darragh Doyle,