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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Swansong, at Theatre Works' Explosives Factory - 90 minutes, without interval

A bravura showing from Andre De Vanny distinguishes the incendiary play Swansong by Conor McDermottroe.

 

Set in the 1960s and ‘70s, it focuses on the thoughts and actions of a man whose head isn’t quite right.

 

He attributes that to an incident during his childhood, the result of bullying.

 

Austin ‘Occi’ Byrne (Andre De Vanny) is the illegitimate child of a single mother in the Catholic west of Ireland.

 

He is a fiery customer who often acts before he thinks, letting his fists do the talking.

 

In other words, he has violent impulses, which – over the years – have gotten him into trouble.

 

He has been locked up and medicated.

Photo by Red Hot Productions


He and his beloved Mammy have always been outcasts. She, too, has issues.

 

Swansong explores Occi’s journey and the name calling that always set him off.

 

It looks at how he survived, the jobs he had, how he fell for a fellow inpatient with depression and how feeding the swans – one in particular – gave him solace.

 

Swansong is a physical and emotional undertaking.

 

What distinguishes Andre De Vanny’s showing is that he literally throws his whole body, as well as his mind, into the experience.

 

He effectively morphs into Occi and we – the audience – are along for the ride.

 

We feel his pain and bloodlust.

 

He is troubled, aggressive and angry, but then there is his softer side too.

 

The juxtaposition of the two on a page is one thing, but realising it and affecting the sensibilities of patrons is quite another.

 

Of course, it is the latter that characterises Andre De Vanny – on a bare, black stage, no set or props, for 90 minutes without interval.

 

He moves from one episode in Occi’s life to the next seamlessly. Although often excitable, he is never rushed … letting Swansong breathe.

 

There is power, passion and poignancy in the narrative.

 

At times, De Vanny is effusive, on other occasions more restrained (he can be loud and proud … quieter and gentler), but he tells it as it is for Occi.

 

The lighting, too, can and does shift the mood.

 

My only concern about Swansong was my lack of comprehension when it came to the strong Irish accent, which I struggled with throughout.

 

That is very much on me, but I still believe it is worth pointing out.

 

Nevetheless, I draw a parallel to someone attending a work of Shakespeare without an understanding of The Bard’s language.

 

If the acting is good enough, there is no doubting the impact of a production. The tenor of what goes down is not lost.

 

So, it is here. I left the theatre full of praise for the writing, direction (by Greg Carroll) and performance of Swansong.

 

It is playing at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory until 22nd March, 2024.

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