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Incantata review – pain, poetry and potatoes with Paul Muldoon

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Town Hall theatre, Galway
Stanley Townsend brings the poet’s searing love poetry to life in a visually stunning show boasting some Beckettian touches

For the bereaved it can often feel as if nothing will ever come from grief except a void. The poet Paul Muldoon’s elegy Incantata wrestles with this nihilism to reaffirm life and love, and to create through his verse “a monument to the human heart”. The virtuosic poem, from 1994, was written in memory of his former lover the American artist and printmaker Mary Farl Powers, who died in Dublin of cancer at the age of 43. Dense with ideas and references to art, myth and Samuel Beckett, it is here staged by director Sam Yates for Galway international arts festival with Jen Coppinger Productions.

As the audience enters, we see the actor Stanley Townsend, called simply the Man, criss-crossing an artist’s workshop, its white walls covered in sheets of multi-coloured potato prints, lit by studio lamps. “I thought of you last night,” he begins. As he repeats some of the stanzas to himself, we seem to be watching Muldoon in mid-composition, lost in thought and memories of Powers and their life together in Belfast and Dublin in the 1980s.

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