Saturday June 11 at Belvedere House and Gardens at Mullingar in Westmeath was glorious – not weather-wise but culturally.
A storytelling event supported by Westmeath County Council and featuring Westmeath writers and actors took place outdoors at the foot of the Jealous Wall, a Gothic folly built on the estate in 1760 by Robert Rochfort out of spite at his brother .
Four dark and disturbing tales from the writing talents of Westmeath were told by Westmeath actors Eimear Keating and Daniel Egerton. A suitably surreal soundtrack was provided by Dublin-based artist and musician Jennifer Moore of DreamCycles.
As the audience sat in the leafy backdrop on a balmy, misty evening, we were in the “twilight zone” in more ways than one. Timed for the hour “between” day and night, the stories had been promised to be scary, and they were, to varying degrees and in different ways. There were no ghouls or goblins or witches or wizards, but the sometimes wacky stories were deep with human emotion and double meaning.
Blackbirds flew over the jealous wall and the century-old trees that surround it as beautiful contemporary music signaled the start of the performance, and Eimear positioned herself in the arches of the famous wall to take the microphone.
Written by Dublin-based artist and writer Isadora Epstein, ‘Augur’ tells the story of a woman who practices ‘augury’, the ancient art of ‘reading the insides to predict the future and confirm whether decisions are good or bad”.
The character uses her art form to pursue a man she is romantically interested in, but the story ends when she realizes it wouldn’t take a clairvoyant to realize her suitor was gutless and, she says , “guts are my particular area of interest”. This strange, suggestive and intelligent tale, was the first of four, and was delivered by Eimear with clarity, precision and warmth.
Next is ‘Obedientia Civium’, written by Westmeath visual artist Avril Corroon, the story of a lonely, estranged, middle-aged man who works as a night watchman in a factory that manufactures technology that creates holes in the ground so that people can be sucked up. The culmination of the character’s isolated and solitary existence comes when the factory, one night, “is finally robbed”… by a swallow.
It was an oddly wonderful tale delivered with great clarity and humor by Daniel. In the middle of this performance, the sky opened up and a downpour fell on the audience, but no one moved except to pick up our umbrellas or sneak slightly sideways to the shelter of a big old tree.
Glasgow-based Mullingar writer Anna Walsh’s ‘The Body’ is the story of an involuntarily single 34-year-old woman living with a sarcastic 25-year-old housemate, where vegan chillies, assorted stews, tofu and Lidl’s flavored waters are the mainstay of the diet.
The woman, who suffers from inexplicable physical symptoms and who one night has a dream in which she is deeply in love with a faceless, shapeless figure, finds herself walking out of her housing estate at night, in her jumpsuit, coats and his gloves and encounter a paranormal body made of clay.
She gradually develops a relationship with the clay figure and eventually sleeps with him in the hope that “tomorrow something will be different”. Another strange and well crafted story, delivered with Eimear’s clarity and warmth.
Mullingar writer Ronan Kenny’s ‘Mortar’ was the deeply moving story of Finbar, a boy who grew up in Cork with a love of history… and of boys. Yearning “to be seen, felt, truly heard and loved”, Finbar was unmasked by a neighbor and then “punched in the face” by his father who told him “you are not my son”.
A desperate search to build a life “meaningful to him” leads Finbar to Mullingar, where he finds refuge working as a caretaker at Belvedere House and Gardens. Finbar identifies with the story of the Jealous Wall with its themes of jealousy, hatred and paranoia and develops the belief that it is visited by the spirit of Lady Belvedere.
This gripping and heartbreaking story was delivered with emotional intensity and urgency by Daniel. The first three stories were dark and disturbing, but Ronan’s less supernatural story about contemporary Irish homophobia was truly terrifying.
As the performances drew to a close, an after-party with DreamCycles and Eliza was about to begin.
Those of us who were leaving were, of course, jealous.