Rotunda Blue

Rotunda Blue(BBC Radio 3. 1983)

Review by Paul Ferris in The Observer.

Neil Donnelly’s Play Rotunda Blue produced in Northern Ireland, was set in a Dublin flat, where a couple of disenchanted wives are entertaining a couple of men who answered their ad in a paper. The men seem decent enough, but they’re nervous. The women, too, seem more scared than randy. They have drinks and put on records and talk uneasily. One of the men keeps looking out of the window. He wants to hear the radio. But just when you feel the play is edging into terrorist country, you realise that the tensions Donnelly is playing with so cleverly are those of the Irish (no doubt the world, too, but the Irish seem to suffer more than most), coping badly with love and sex.

All are unhappy in their permanent relationships; all want to clutch at something better than a one-night stand, but fail just as hopelessly. Siobhain (Deirdre Donnelly) had a fine gaunt manner, wanting and not wanting in the same breath. She and her partner (Michael Lally) endure an unexpected minute of grunting sex at the close of the play, making the disaster complete.

Rotunda Blue Review 2

Jill Neville in The Sunday Times.

If you had tuned in to Radio 3 you might have been bemused to hear groans of orgasm followed by the sounds of a man sobbing his heart out. I was curious to know how the actors managed such authenticity during the recording of the play Rotunda Blue by Neil Donnelly. Made by BBC Northern Ireland and set near the scene of a recent atrocity, it is not, however, about exploding bombs under people but the much harder task of trying to communicate.

Four people meet in a Dublin flat in the vague hope of an orgy, but are defeated by their own shyness, awkward silences and embarrassment; the small-talk and booze do not make a voluptuous atmosphere. One of the women solves the problem by going out to buy a newspaper and never reappearing. The other reluctantly succumbs to the lonely man who was “beaten black and blue” by his mother and who recalls an Irish priest hitting courting couples with an iron bar. Donnelly has used the most ordinary dialogue to convey universal longings.

Rotunda Blue review 3

Nigel Andrew in The Listener 1983

Addition was made to the impressive corpus of recent plays from Belfast with Rotunda Blue, Neil Donnelly’s first radio work, directed by Marilyn Ireland. It is set in a Dublin flat where two men and two women have met for a ‘swinging party’ (as advertised by the women in a small ad). Siobhain (Deirdre Donnelly) and Doreen (Marcella O’Riordan) are both married –more or less unhappily–and of the men, Ollie (Michael Lally) is married, Fergus (Maoliosa Stafford) engaged. In the end, the nervous Doreen ducks out and Ollie has Siobhain by way of a quasi-rape, graphically rendered, and followed by him bursting into tears and then reasserting his masculine authority to extricate himself from any possible unpleasantness.

It all added up to a powerful indictment of the Irish male—sentimental, fearful, but deeply self-satisfied and callous—and indeed of the structural hypocrisies of Irish wedlock. Siobhain, particularly had some strong lies: ‘In Ireland he’s a staunch Catholic,’ she says of her absent husband, ‘but when he’s abroad he’s a sinful Protestant like all the rest.’ This was a fine cast, all acting superbly, the writing was excellent but for an occasional awkwardness and Marilyn Ireland’s direction—subtly using sound and silence, music and speech to create emotional microclimates—was very fine.

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