By Una D’Arcy
Tom Egan pauses to think. Closing his eyes and raising his hand to his mouth, you can see him winding back the years. Manchán is asking how a scythe is drawn in the meadow as the Irish he knows describes it as away from the sun. Tom is thinking in the modern ways of left and right Manchán is wondering how we used to do things. The two men agree, they are describing the same thing.
Tom is there to see Manchán’s show and is proving himself to be the perfect audience participant. Tom knew that if you visit a person’s home when they are churning butter you have to take a turn or you’ll be accused of taking the butter. Allowing Manchán to pass a small glass churn around the audience so everyone could ‘take a turn’. Better is to come, when Manchán is washing the butter and start to pat it Tom is on his feet to demonstrate a task that he carried out hundreds of times as a boy. Tom deftly turns pats and rolls the butter to loud applause from the audience.
For Manchán Magan it was as close to a homecoming as civic spaces in North Westmeath could facilitate. For months, fans of the writer and Gaeilgeoir who were also neighbours tried to find a space where he could present Arán & Im. Then, like buses two venues came along at once; Castlepollard Community College on Thursday night and Delvin’s St Patrick’s Hall hot on its heels the following Saturday.
Arán & Im , written and performed by Manchán is about the liminal spaces we occupy. Our world and the worlds that exist in our peripheral vision. The forest spaces where once we carved spells on rowan twigs, the ocean spaces and the waves that fenced them in, the tiny spaces occupied by fairies and our stories about all of them that just may date back a hundred generations.
The show is also about the alchemy of the ordinary and everyday. The golden butter that emerged from the communal churn and the yeasts churning within the flour and warm water to create dough. They represent transformation and how lovely it is to gather and share bread and butter. Which the audience do, a few minutes in and at the end.
While the smell of bread baking fills the room, Manchán is elaborate in his string theories connecting physics and dark matter to the unseen other-world always so accepted by the Irish, even now; He links the rich vocabulary of the folklore to why we turn out they way we do and he contemplates those first wild cereal mutations and the people that gathered them and how using our lost words for the natural world around us will reconnect us to it.
Manchan dips in and out of the Irish language; enough English so that you can follow it, enough Irish to delight those that traveled to the show to gather new words and phrases and enjoy a show performed in Irish.
He presents himself as a threshold character throughout his performance. He is the doorway that opens into new language, fresh thinking, old beliefs, lost words, ancient lore and the physics that shapes the universe. But its also treasure hunt, where Manchán learns from his audience too. His sincere delight that Tom steals the show with his childhood butter skills is charming. If you didn’t get a chance to see Manchán on home turf try to catch his next show.