Review: No One Is Coming (Bitesize Festival)

Showing as one of the productions in the Bitesize Festival at Riverside Studios, No One is Coming is an autobiographical storytelling performance by Sinead O’Brien, presented by Octopus Soup Theatre.

O’Brien draws on both her own experience dealing with her mother’s mental health crisis, and the legends of Irish mythology. Over a fifty minute runtime the focus switches from one to the other.

I was aware of the mythology being discussed in the three stories (The Wooing of Étaín, Cú Chulainn and The Only Jealousy of Emer, Finn mac Cumhail and the deer), but as stories they can stand within and apart from the drama. They are pervasive stories of their setting and about the relationships between men and women, but do they really capture the tragedy of the O’Brien marriage collapse?

Sinead O'Brien in No One is Coming

O’Brien is an excellent monologist, making the audience feel included in what is a very personal tale with many dark moments. She utilises her “stereotypical Irish appearance” of blue eyes, long hair and a lot of freckles to fine effect, embodying a variety of characters within both her life story and in the stories of Celtic mythology shared through generations of oral tradition.

We are there in the bedroom of the child shut off from the parent she feels closest to, and in the mosh pit of a Dublin nightclub as the woman feels grey in the face and estranged from the voice she dreads to hear. Authority figures – teacher, doctor, policeman – are shadowy and at best, unhelpful. Storytime is a place for escape – which is where these mythical interludes best fit.

Whether talking about herself, mother, grandmother, rocker friend Paula, or those strong women of mythology (Étaín, Emer, the ‘bird woman’, the princess Sadhbh) there is a sense of sisterhood within society’s expectations. Ultimately ‘Sinead’ leaves the story of what happened to her mother unresolved, so we don’t know whether the end is a happy one for either or both.

Sinead O'Brien in No One is Coming

Developed at the Amsterdam Storytelling Festival, and fresh from the Prague Fringe, O’Brien’s show is directed by Sahand Sahebdivani and takes the approach of toning down the black aspects of this time to find the humour and reality beneath. There’s a lovely moment of connection between daughter and dad as they have a makeshift camping night; which contrasts with a phone call where even a voice causes nervous mutism for the receiver.

For a set, there is a simple bar stool on an empty stage, but with inspired lighting and variety in O’Brien’s movement (at one stage lying down, at another pacing back and forth), the attention is held throughout. The show has now finished its run at the Bitesize Festival, but you can find out more about Octopus Soup Theatre Company here and about Sinead O’Brien here.