Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Helen McNamara’s fifth play, Mis-Conceptions, charmingly performed at Smock Alley Theatre in Temple Bar. Upon first inspection, the performance space seemed simplistic and minimalistic, however, this allowed for the focus to be on the plot, which gripped your attention right from the beginning.
The set displayed different home-like settings for each scene for which the ‘Book Club meetings’ would take place, these meetings being crucial to the storyline. Inside the set we are introduced to our six leading ladies and as described by Super Pie Theatre, it is all about “Six women. Six books. Six very unexpected misconceptions.”
In the opening scene we are introduced to an angsty Sarah (Megan Bea Tiernan), adopted sister to Ann (Niamh Sweeney), upset and angry at a world where she feels she has no place, given up and never contacted again by her own birth mother. We are given slight insight throughout the play on each woman’s stance on having children, with the discussion of abortion popping up here and there.
The issue of women’s choices and women’s bodily rights is discussed frequently during the play and offers an insight into several different, and in some ways, opposing opinions from these six characters. There is mention of the Repeal campaign’s success in the play, which offers a new and exciting angle to the plot and ensures that, along with entertainment, this play addresses some real life issues faced in today’s Ireland.
From beginning to end we are introduced to each woman’s own dealings with childbirth, or lack thereof, and are left feeling connected to each woman. They represent different, yet all equally strong, modern, Irish women. With each heartbreaking story comes feelings of pity, not lingering long before we are brought back into the story with a pop of humour.
Spending the entire play trying to figure out the connection between all these women and their monthly book clubs, we are kept on the edge of our seat before finally the ultimate plot twist is revealed. We witness Grace (Rebecca Bloomfield) read aloud the missing chapter of her choice of book “The business of babies” where, in a surprising turn of events, a character that had previously remained very much in the background suddenly becomes the centre of the storyline. The acting that came as a result was next to exceptional and really brought the audience in.
While all of the actors in this play are worth noting, the standouts include Michelle Costello playing the ever bubbly, humorous and, in some cases, goofy Elaine who continuously caused eruptions of laughter from the audience. Megan Bea Tiernan who played Sarah also gave a heart wrenching performance, and her acting chops are undeniable.
The play is beautifully written by Helena McNamara and directed excellently by Niamh Cummins, offering smooth scene changes, a clear focus and united form that was impressive to witness, with each actor knowing when to pipe up and when to pull back. With everything discussed here it is easy to say that this play was exceptionally written, directed and performed by all of the cast and crew.