Engrossing quest in mysteries past

By Margaret Wieringa

When Vanessa O’Neill gave birth to her son, she wanted to be able to share her proud Irish heritage with him, but soon discovered there was a big hole in her family history; her great grandfather Owen Roe was buried in an unmarked grave with his thirteen-year old daughter, and the rest of the family were buried nearby. Who was he? What was his life like? How did he end up there?

Vanessa O'neill

This one-woman show is a culmination of O’Neill’s research, her experiences and many aspects of her life during this time, and it is absolutely captivating. From the moment she first addresses the audience to her departure up the La Mama staircase, we are on her side. We too want to know who Owen Roe was and to see the charming and endearing (and very funny) O’Neill bring closure to this chapter.

Through the show, she plays a wide range of characters, cites poetry, and sings songs. She could easily have gone through the show without props or costumes, but those that she chose were a delightful touch. There were two pieces of art, one on either side of the stage; a map of Ireland and a family tree. These were beautifully designed by Annie Edney, the Celtic background that is so significant to this piece was clearly displayed in both.

The sound for the performance is extremely important (not including the lounge singing from across the road which was an annoyance that was, through the engaging performance, easy to ignore). In the opening scene, which I felt ran a little long though, the soundscape established a sense of history, or ghosts from the past haunting the research, haunting O’Neill. At times, the sound lead the performance, and other times sound designer and composer Darius Kedros added to the final touches to well-created scenes.

There were questions left unanswered (as much for the performer as the audience) which left us wanting more at the end, but overall this was a funny, emotional and clever performance by a strong and confident performer, and I really enjoyed myself.

In Search of Owen Roe is playing at La Mama Theatre In Faraday St, Carlton until July 5. Tickets are $15 and $25 – visit