Tinsel Kids and Jet Engine Joy – ‘Kate Crackernuts’ at Smock Alley Review

In this thoroughly modern piece, gone are the fairy folk and enchantments of the original tale, here replaced by rave-culture Tinsel Kids, and drug pushing seductresses. A headless sheep narrates, and interferes with, the action while the eponymous heroine struggles to find a cure first for her sister’s malady (waking with the head of a sheep, but not that one), and then that of Paul, her seduced and pill-popping object of desire. A man-sized baby with a magic rattle, and a dead-crow-stroking crone (seated on a porcelain throne) figure also. If that sounds like a lot going on, you don’t know the half of it.

Dublin theatre group No Drama are back with this must-see frenetic joy. Director Kate Cosgrave has chosen the bold and often startling ‘Kate Crackernuts’ for their latest effort, a mesmeric take on the old Scottish folk tale by American writer Sheila Callaghan. Veering wildly from disarming lyricism to disorienting, and frequently hilarious, physical comedy, the play and players conspire to keep the audience in a state of joyful surrender. Which if you’ve ever seen a No Drama production before, will probably come as no surprise.


That’s the gut-punch of this production. Somehow, while digesting themes of seekers seeking; beauty fading; wounds as transformation; compulsion and addiction; and individualism and escapism, the sheer protean vibrancy onstage means we the audience are never lost in the proceedings, only reeling. Callaghan’s elliptical and poetic dialogue (“The raver boy who has lost his milky way”, “Youth is all you have, you better unfold it loudly” and “Ride her. Spread her. Throw her at the sun” are fairly representative lines) is always beautiful as it careens from carnality to comedy, and back by way of catharsis.


The assured central performances of Megan Carter as Kate, Siobhan Hickey as her sister Anne, Shane Robinson as drugged and wasting Paul, and, (as the embodiment of Paul’s dislocated voice) Ali Keohane, are never less than compelling and hit an extraordinary range of emotional beats. Daniel O’Brien as love-struck brother Ralph, Greg Freegrove as both Kate’s mother and Paul’s father, Darcy Donnellan Poole as the above crone, and Dave McGowan as the headless sheep, all ground the action in levity with their consummate comic chops. Sorcha Maguire as Miss Prima brings a sultry side to inter-generational rivalry and locks in the threatening aspect of the piece. “Tinsel Kids” Stephen Madden and Therese Doyle make a virtue of the mind-boggling number of scene changes by doubling up as both blissed-out rave fairies and nimble stage hands.


The producer Louise Dunne has conjured an appropriately febrile and dream-like atmosphere, and assistant director Ciaran Treanor has nailed the technical aspects and marshalling. But ultimately all credit must go to Cosgrave who has pulled something quite extraordinary into existence.


So folks, if I tell you that this singular spell of enchantment is an absolute must-not-miss, will you please, please, for the love of all that is scared and profane, just go and see it already?


Consider yourself told.

Ciarán Milton

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