He had tears in his eyes, running down into the white mask. I had no tears, I had nothing but the empty feeling of a stopped clock that can’t be wound.
The second instalment in the Fightback 2020 Festival at The New Theatre was Tara Maria Lovett’s The One Tree which was performed by Pat Nolan.
The Festival kicked off in fine style with Elizabeth Moynihan’s An Unmade Bed and the second installment featuring The One Tree was another great success.
The Tree started speaking me to me the night I got locked on account of the virus.
The One Tree is a story about Jamsie, his mother, an old flame and The One Tree. It would be difficult to really capture the strengths of this short play in a short review. The writing by Tara Maria Lovett is exquisite while the performance by Paul Nolan rings every last bit of emotion and feeling out of the words while adding a little more for good measure.
But, The One Tree is so much more than the sum of its parts. It captures the absolute horror of the virus and the impact it can have on the most basic aspects of life and death. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects is the mixture of humour and devastating sadness. But, in when things are at their worst there hope is injected into the story.
The writing is so rich with images and soft touches and phrases that squeeze so much meaning into a few words. While, the performance by Paul Nolan is breathtaking. With no props, just a seat and his voice and his expressions he captures the gamut of human emotion that is spreading through the country and indeed the world at the moment.
But, I don’t think this is any way an ephemeral story. It is a story about life and death and love and hope and it will be admired long after Covid 19 is gone.
Jamsie first hears the tree when he is on his way home, drunk, having lost his job because of the virus and in need of relief.
Only animals have leave for pissing against me, not men, not men of any class.
Jamsie wakes up the next morning and is faced with his mother who wants to go to the shops for the messages. But, Jamsie doesn’t know how to tell her that it’s not possible because, well, because she is old.
On his next visit to the tree, just to make sure he is not going mad, Jamsie talks to the tree again.
No doubt about it now, sober out, that tree was speaking to me.
Jamsie recalls that it was under The One Tree that he had his first shift with Gracie O’ Reilly.
I remember her tongue tickling you, said the Tree. Jesus, said Jamsie, can a man not have his own memories in his own head without a tree interfering?
The description of the Jamsie and Gracie is so evocative and funny and tender.
It was the month of May and I put wee white blossoms in her dark hair, plucked for The One Tree.
But it also captures the innocence of youth seen through older eyes. Jamsie looking back on what were clearly some happy memories, up to a point.
She let me touch her breasts… they were so soft…
and I had a plank on me that would support a house.
The Tree mocks Jamsie and his failure to keep his relationship with Gracie going and this brings us to what may be the core of the play. Jamsie can’t make a decision. He lost Gracie because he dithered and couldn’t make a decision.
‘She would have married you… She would have married you… She would have married you.
Jamsie gets so annoyed with the tree which is laughing at him that he threatens to cut it down. But, the Tree is not too worried because the Jamsie who dithered and let Gracie slip away is not going to be able to make such a big decision that would lead him to cut down the tree.
You’ll chainsaw nothing for you’re the man who couldn’t decide on a life with the fine Gracie Reilly. I’ve no fear of you deciding to axe me. Go home now Jamsie and see will this virus will make a man of ya.
Things take a turn for the worst and the Mammy becomes unwell and finally succumbs to the virus and the scene in which we see the Mammy attended on by medics is both funny and very sad at the same time.
The ambulance pulled up outside the door and yer man stepped inside the door and I stood well back from him. Social distancing as he pulled out a white space suit and donned it under the statue of St Anthony over the door like he was fixing to go to the moon.
The description of the funeral is sad and realistic and emotional. But, in the midst of the despair, Jamsie is given some hope with the return of Gracie.
The One Tree is a a beautifully written play which is brought to life by Paul Nolan with consummate skill. The next ten plays have a lot to live up to but if they come even close to The One Tree then this will be a Festival not to be missed by any lovers of Irish Theatre.
Gracie Reilly, was she even real
I squeezed her hand and she squeeze mine, was she real?
She was real alright.
Mammy drifted away behind the red curtain
and I cried and I can cried and so did she.
The one tree never spoke to me again.
Gracie and I went visiting her often,
I put wee white blossoms in her dark hair when the season allowed
The One Tree never spoke to me again.
Written by Tara Maria Lovett
Performed by Paul Nolan
“Writers that have worked with in The New Theatre over the last 12 months will present short works about now; their fears, joys, losses, love lives, secrets and pasts, futures and families, isolation and connection.
These short works provide a snapshot of this country in the here and now, shining a light on our tentative first steps into a fundamentally new world.”
-Take Your Seats & The New Theatre