The Observer, Sunday 25 February 2007
When Michael Keegan-Dolan’s new show opened at the 2005 Dublin Theatre Festival, many were horrified. Among a flood of negative comments, one caller to the radio show Liveline protested that the piece was ‘deeply offensive to nurses!’. The reference was to a moment when two ward sisters, having pocketed hefty bribes, try to fatally infect a patient’s wound by smearing it with excrement, but end up getting stabbed through the throat with their own knitting needles. This blackly funny episode is one of many such in Keegan-Dolan’s updating of a 12th-century myth to present-day Ireland, which he presents as a stew of naff, pseudo-Gaelicry, cut-throat property development and organised crime.
A bogtrotter iliad, as daft as it is Homeric, The Bull follows on the heels of Keegan-Dolan’s award-winning The Flowerbed (2000) and Giselle (2003). The introduction of speech, however, not to mention torrents of swearing, takes his work into a more spacious landscape. The story concerns a nouveau-riche couple: Pringle-sweatered Alan (Michael M Dolan), who distractedly chips golf balls into the audience, and the monstrous Maeve (Olwen Fouere), who is cuckolding Alan with Fergus (Colin Dunne), the leather-trousered star of Celtic Bitch, a Riverdance-style spectacular. To score further points against her husband, Maeve determines to acquire a prize bull. The animal she covets is owned by the Cullens, a family of sociopathically violent plasterers upon whom, centuries before, a curse has been called down by a malign earth goddess.
Desperate, Maeve and her bull terrier (a naked, snarling Milos Galko) launch themselves into the orbit of the baleful Cullens. The bull, however, is not for sale, embodying as it does its owners’ connectedness with the land and the past. To Maeve, for whom everything has its price, including the body of her naive daughter (Daphne Strothmann), this is incomprehensible. The result is a grotesque, hilarious and precisely crafted culture clash. The action, most of it violent, takes place on a dark expanse of peat, and threaded through the piece is a bleak choreographic leitmotif: that of a distraught figure jogging in circles with his underpants around his ankles. Draw a line from Samuel Beckett to Quentin Tarantino and somewhere along it you’ll find Michael Keegan-Dolan.
Luke Jennings, The Observer