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Citysong review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘poignant, lyrical and gorgeously written’

Dan Monaghan, Daryl McCormack and Clare McKenna in Citysong at Soho Theatre. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Time, and its passing, loom large in Dylan Coburn Gray’s Verity Bargate award-winning ‘play for voices.’ It zooms in on one Dublin family on the day its newest member enters the world, then zooms out, hopping across decades. It encompasses all of life: first dances, first kisses, birth, love, and loss.

With a lightness of touch, Coburn Gray depicts shifting societal attitudes to sex and marriage and Ireland’s changing economic fortunes. Characters keep catching sight of themselves in mirrors, and realising how much they’ve aged, how with each new crease and grey hair they increasingly resemble their parents.

Citysong is a heady, word-drunk piece of writing, replete with nods to Joyce and Under Milk Wood, to Woolf too, full of verbal curlicues. There’s a beautiful musicality to it, a sense of ebb and flow.

Sarah Bacon’s set consists of cracked glass backdrop shaped like the outline of Dublin and its coast, a fittingly reflective surface for a reflective play. Caitríona McLaughlin directs a charismatic and versatile cast of six. They act as a kind of chorus, inhabiting this canvas of humanity, shifting from character to character, drawing out the play’s poignancy but also its wit.

It’s the details that really make it sing – the insults that school kids hurl at one another, an old woman’s dismay at failing to complete the cryptic crossword for the first time and feeling some vital part of herself slip away.

The play never focuses on any one person for long and some of the characters are sketched in charcoal rather than pencil, but it’s the imagery that lingers, the echoes, the little ripples of history.

Playwright Dylan Coburn Gray: ‘Poetry is stillness, drama is rupture’

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Poignant, lyrical and gorgeously written portrait of Dublin life