Small Things Like These – a review

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Journalist and author Jackie Hayden attended and reviewed a staged reading performance of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan at Wexford Arts Centre. The reader was Andrew Bennett and Eleanor McEvoy provided live original musical accompaniment.

This Four Rivers presentation of the acclaimed Claire Keegan novella saw director Ben Barnes take an appropriately less-is-enough approach to Keegan’s compact prose. Bennett (Seán in the film An Cailín Ciúin) voiced the text in his clear, warm style without needing to imitate the speech of different characters, while Eleanor McEvoy’s musical interjections on electronic keyboard, electric guitar and violin, were, like the ideal film soundtrack, mood enhancing but not distracting.

Those who have read the book, set in a Wexford town in the eighties, will know that the story focuses on decent, hard-working fuel merchant Bill Furlong and his appalled reaction to what he observes in the local convent and where he discovers a distraught girl locked away by the nuns. His loving relationship with his wife Eileen is severely tested by his protestations against her treatment, while his wife takes a “let’s not rock the boat” stance, aware of how much the Furlong family depend on the convent for business. This is a neat reversal by Keegan of the tough businessman/caring wife stereotypes in such stories.

Hearing Keegan’s words read in a male voice also gives her prose a different feel, especially in the reading of the scene where the Furlongs have what might be their worst disagreement of a long and loving marriage as he struggles with his conscience. It all played to the versatility in Keegan’s language with which she fills her simple tale with maximum drama.

As the story climbs to its climax McEvoy uses her musical dexterity to add to the tension and Bennett leaves us hanging on the cliff before a telling quote from the Irish constitution is projected on the screen. All in all, this was an exhilarating and challenging experience for the three full houses it attracted to the Wexford Arts Centre. It will doubtlessly send many of them back to Keegan’s wonderful book.