Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegan’s Wake – Cork Opera House, 03.11.12

Originally posted on

Words: Vicky Langan

Photography: Brid O’Donovan

Full photoset on here

It was great to come in out of the cold. Almost immediately, I struck up some conversation with an older woman who was also hovering next to the radiator by the front door. Asking her if she was aware that the seating arrangement for tonight was going to be a little unusual, she replied enthusiastically about a play she had seen in the Granary Theatre years ago where “we were all in it together”.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked her, “Were you self conscious or did it feel electric?”
“Oh no, I didn’t mind at all. It was fun. I was well able for any surprises.”

The back bar was full of excited faces and plastic pints. We downed our drinks and headed up the stairs to the stage where we entered an all-black rectangle, walled on one side and cordoned off with sheer black material on the other. In each of the four corners of the space were four medium-sized plinths, a spotlit chair on each of them. In the dead centre of the room sat a spotlit chair and a small desk (on which lay Cage’s score to Roaratorio, open on the second section of the piece).

The lightest of purplish mists hung in the air which added to the feeling of having collectively lost our bearings. I couldn’t tell where I was in relation to the main stage or the Half Moon Theatre. Where was backstage? What was behind the wall? There wasn’t time to figure it out. People quickly took up the seating along the edges of the space, others sat on the floor. A man sat in a meditative posture and bowed his head, quietly preparing for the performance. The four musicians emerged and took their seats. The tape recordings began. I looked up and noticed the rig above us, the speakers spread out and pointing downwards, with one suspended squarely above the empty chair in the middle of the space.

The room swelled with Cage’s sprechstimme, himself softly lilting the text, stretching out consonants, burring and enunciating syllables like soothing incantations. Recordings of water, women, men, carillon, birds, singing, laughing, dancing music, babies crying, gulls, wailing, rattles, explosions, shouts, cries, banging, barking, bleating, purrs, mewing, children singing, and motor engines lapped and curled through the haze.

People seemed a little too shy to be the first to break through the empty space and experience the fuller sound by walking around the room, but it didn’t take long before the space was filled with tranced listeners, brushing sleeves with strangers and winding their own path around the black box, occasionally stopping, with a bowed head or the opposite, shoulders back, head up, positively *receiving* the sound from above. At one point, an almost full circle had formed around Cage’s chair and desk, where the sound of the text was at its strongest.

Paddy Glackin’s warmth cut through the clamour like a hot knife through a lump of Kerrygold. Seamus Tansey on flute, his hornpipe tonguing bending around the corners of Liam O’Flynn’s slow air notes. Mel Mercier’s rhythms stopping everybody in their slow tracks… I was experiencing that manic feeling of being taken away when things were really pounding. There were moments of such intensity that it felt on par with some of the most affecting noise shows I’ve experienced. My skin crackled, I felt sound rush past me as though I were on the street. At times I was nowhere but my own head. A young couple lay on a bed of coats at Liam O’ Flynn’s feet. Life was all around us. Emotionally, I found it to beyond moving and joyous, other times completely ordinary, maybe surreal. I was fighting tears, trying to hold it together for a lot of the performance, especially when Peadar Mercier’s drumming or Joe Heaney’s voice would surface. We were all in it together, we were in a hundred different places.