Kate Maltby Kate Maltby

Hell Comes to Dublin

No one can accurately imagine Hell. In Terminus, a magical paean to the art of storytelling, playwright Mark O’Rowe wisely does not try.

No one can accurately imagine Hell. In Terminus, a magical paean to the art of storytelling, playwright Mark O’Rowe wisely does not try. The one soul in his universe who does manage to escape the place, finds himself, like Old Hamlet, unable to unfold its horrors to the youthful melancholic he encounters in a run-down corner of Dublin. But Miltonic questions of salvation, punishment and survival are infused through every phrase of the language his characters inhabit.

Hell, or its earthly echo, an inner-city sink estate, may be inescapable for some, but the characters of Terminus are indefatigable in the search for loopholes to salvation – hence the intoxicating bravado of one claim, that ‘I’ve heard tell that even the Devil remembered Heaven, after he fell.’ It is the poetic force of Terminus that lifts it into the ranks of the extraordinary.

The performance consists of interweaving dramatic monologues by three characters, each of whom narrate their experience of the same troubled night in the city centre. But where some monologue dramas might lack dramatic detail, in Terminus the gap is filled by the rapid movement of the language. This is dazzling poetry, full of surprises, with changes in rhythm or rhyme scheme as ready to leap out at us as a character is to change direction in her winding tale, or to relate an impulsive change of plan. It’s utterly beautiful.

The script is laid out as prose – but this is still verse propelled by a commanding beat, loaded with subtly slanting internal rhyme.

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Kate Maltby
Written by
Kate Maltby
Kate Maltby writes about the intersection of culture, politics and history. She is a theatre critic for The Times and is conducting academic research on the intellectual life of Elizabeth I.

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