City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Midnight Court

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 14 August 2008

Show details
Assembly Roxy
Demarco European Art Foundation and Sean Tyrell Presentation
Running time: 
David Marcus (translator), Sean Tyrell (composer), Pete Ashton (lighting designer), Pauline Bewick (set designer )
Sean Tyrell

"Cúirt An Mhéan Oíche" in the original, "The Midnight Court" to those not
blessed with an understanding of the Irish tongue, is a bold jeu d'esprit in
which the language of saints and scholars is booted up the backside with Father
Jack alacrity.

The original of Brian Merriman has had several translators,
including Frank O'Connor, though the version of this production by David Marcus
seems to owe a debt to that of Ciaran Carson, traditional arts officer for Northern
Ireland (it would be hard to imagine a more perfect name for a traditional arts
officer in Northern Ireland than Ciaran Carson), but in any case speeds along delightfully.

Sean Tyrell's musical settings are drawn from a wide range of styles, from the
traditional to swing band, and includes a wonderful moment when "The Sash" encounters "Viva Espania." "The Midnight Court" itself is a tremendous snoot-cock at
antiquarian pietas, a complaint by the women of Ireland about the lack of
lustre among their men-folk in the bedroom department.

Cheeky, bawdy and occasionally
touching by turns, its theme and style sets Merriman apart from bards such as
Aodhagán O Rathaille and Dáibhí O Bruadair, lamenting the past but seemingly
unconcerned with finding a future for the language in which they wrote. Carson,
as a musician as well as poet, is well able to imitate the phrasing of
traditional tunes in his version, and a similar technique is used here to considerable
effect. A range of instruments adds to the variety, including more citterns
than this reviewer has heard employed together (or rather consecutively) in quite
some time.

The poem's arguments, for genuinely lusty women against crabbed and
timid males, for procreation and against priestly celibacy caused several
versions (in English) to be banned by the Irish government censor as late as
1945, while pious republicans railed against it, certain that Anglo-Saxon
influence had corrupted the author - although Eamonn De Valera was supposedly a

The paintings which form the set, selected and presented by Pauline Bewick, are a joy, and it's good to discover Pete Ashton illuminiting in Edinburgh again. The company are owed thanks for bringing this neglected classic to new and
wider audiences.

Times: Aug 13-23 at 20.25

Copyright Bill Dunlop, August 2008

Published on August 2008