No One Is Coming review – Fumbally, Dublin ★★★★☆

Review by Mark Quinn

No One is Coming is a 50-minute performance by the incomparable Sinéad O’Brien. Described by the dual author and orator as a “A love letter to my mother that I will never send,” the monologue blends Irish mythology with mental health and its effects on a family.

The irony of this production’s title, to the packed-out Long Room of the stunning Fumbally Stables, was swiftly dealt with by O’Brien, in the first of several audience interactions. The casual nature of the welcome and set-up of the room provided an immediate intimacy that bolstered the correlation between the O’Brien performing before the audience, and the real person.

A maestro in all senses of the word, O’Brien easily elicited answers to questions and hearty laughs from the audience. The audible gasps could be heard from each corner of the room at one particular reenactment from O’Brien’s past and moments were let hang in the air before she deftly made another Irish myth her own.

The re-imaginations of Irish folklore from Midir and Étain to Cú Chulainn and Emer are brimming with life, colour, and suggestive humour. O’Brien’s personal story, which itself rivals the twists and turns of the mythology it is woven into, begins with a phone call revealing O’Brien’s mother has been arrested under the 2001 Mental Health Act and oscillates back and forth in time from there. 

The visuals conjured by O’Brien are supplemented by surprising moments of physicality. The simple stomp of a foot suddenly becomes something much more significant against the plain white backdrop. The absence of any stage lighting makes the use of a kid-sized torch towards the show’s closing moments more noteworthy, casting shadows on O’Brien’s ever-animated face.

O’Brien is living evidence that the art of storytelling is alive and well in Ireland and she is never anything less than entrancing throughout the moments of comedy and pathos alike. When searching for the word to describe her relationship with her mother, to the nurse on the other end of the phone, joy and poignancy combine when she remembers: “Estranged!”

At the production’s close, I had to check my watch in absolute disbelief that the time was up. I was instantly saddened that story time was over. No One is Coming is proof that sometimes a production can be no more than a chair and an enchanting story. What makes this a stellar production is Sinéad O’Brien’s effortless communication that invites you in from the start and transfixes right to the bittersweet end.

No One is Coming plays Belltable, Limerick on 6 April and Town Hall, Galway on 9 April