Theatre Review | There’s a Bishop in my Bedroom
By Conor O’Neill
The MAC’s Upstairs Theatre is sold out. Outburst Queer Arts Festival and Tinderbox presents Cork man Richard O’Leary’s tale of a childhood of Catholic indoctrination/threat, the prediction made to him aged six, that he would be a Priest, elevated to Bishop at 12-years-old and his reaction to all this and more with the contradictions that ensued with his coming of age and realising his homosexuality.
As we’re ushered in, the smell of incense is the first indication that this is not the high-jink type of theatre the title suggests. We’re also handed a Prenuptial Enquiry, any document with ‘confidential’ on it always raises my hackles. This, I assume is the intended prompt. Tonight was never meant to be a walk in the park. Serious matters delivered and questioned with a sweet and sharp lemon drop are the order of proceedings.
James Watson’s set is cold, stark and unforgiving. Two large white sheets hang with authority as backdrop; the dark purple cloth of the clergy splitting each sheet adds a tone of reverence. A pulpit to the audience’s left is covered with a dust throw, so too a table to our right. Central is a bed, hard to decide whether it is freshly made, or neglected for some time. All of the above has a tension and solemnity about it.
How refreshing it is when O’Leary welcomes us all and then in the voice of his father states: “Richard, one day, you will be a Priest.” Six years pass and again the paternal side announces: “Richard, one day, you will be a Bishop.” His response: “Be careful what you wish for!” O’Leary’s amicable manner and ease on the stage is that of a lecturer, and indeed it is revealed that is one of his many caps revealed tonight. A pseudo marriage is carried out. “Have we a Catholic in the room?” This being the North of Ireland, none are keen to announce their faith… at last some brave soul does, a man. “And a Protestant woman to complete the union?” One is found and these two strangers and the rest of us, who apparently are neither man, woman, Catholic or Protestant, are made aware of the Prenuptial Agreement. Articles 4b and 8 are read aloud and Gerry and Sue’s impossible situation sets the tone for the political, social and faith-based questioning of what is to follow.
The Dani tribe of Papua New Guinea are held up as moral beacons of virtue due to their chaste lifestyle. At UCD O’Leary as student representative turns to condom provider. The three fears of Dublin students in 1985 are a) Detection, b) Infection, and c) Conception. All these personal relays are brought with a knowing glint, mischief is never far away. O’Leary’s eidetic memory recalls every date: the May 13, 1985 essay on Family Planning, his 582 page thesis on Mixed Marriage. All these dates and details are overshadowed and superfluous by comparison of Feb 11, 1989. Mervin Kingston is love at first sight. The problem, Mervin’s an ordained Church of Ireland minister. O’Leary’s leather peaked hat, the American style air force jacket binned. To quote alt-folk singer, Daniel Johnston, “True love will find you in the end.”
The hypocrisy of Ireland, both north and south, is picked away. This piece of theatre is the tale of the personal echoing the birthing pains of a divided country coming to terms with a more secular, involved and critical people. Standing ovations well earned. Understated and sublime.
After the performance Richard gave CultureHub a couple of minutes. He reflects on the show: “I think there’s both humour and poignancy in it. I can be humorous in an overt way and poignant in moments that are quieter and non-vocal.” And on the writing side? “I initially started to write as a memoir and thought that it might be more suitable for the stage. Outburst had a scheme last year to encourage new writing. Tinderbox and Hannah Slattne and I developed it. Patrick J. O’Reilly has done a great job in directing.” And, is there more to follow, I ask? I do, yes. What I do I call is reliving memoir on stage and there are pieces I’m working on.”
Good news for all then. Not so good news for readers is that tomorrow, Tuesday, November 14 has already sold out. But keep your eyes peeled for more of O’Leary’s work in the near future.
For tickets click here