Writer & Director: Stewart Roche
The Viking Theatre Dublin has been celebrating its 12th birthday this week. Founded in 2011 by Laura Dowdall and Andrew Murray, this immersive space is in a wonderful location above Connolly’s Pub at the Sheds, Clontarf.
In an auspicious start to proceedings, venerable actor John Connors of ‘Love Hate’ and ‘Ireland’s Call’ fame, kindly points us in the right direction of the entrance.
Stewart Roche’s A Christmas Visit sees Kelly and Andrew return to his Mother’s house on Christmas Eve after bumping into each other at Ryan’s pub. It’s been many years since they broke up and she left for America so there’s a lot to catch up on. With a drink in hand they wander together down memory lane in the comfort of the cosy sitting room, looking over old photographs and listening to meaningful music on the record player.
Although life for Kelly has turned out exactly as she planned, her “great job, beautiful house, beautiful kids and charming husband” have been a “box ticking exercise” and haven’t brought the happiness she’d expected. Kelly has left the children with their father for her visit home. She “needed a bit of distance from all the noise”.
Andrew’s journey hasn’t been any more fulfilling than Kelly’s. He lives alone in a one bedroom flat in Galway and works in logistics for a shipping company. The archaeology didn’t pan out. Neither did marriage or children. Andrew loves his music but feels conspicuous sitting alone at gigs. He says he’s “accepted where I am and I just get on with it”.
The rapport between Lesley Conroy and Jed Murray as Kelly and Andrew is excellent. This play could have otherwise been called ‘The One that Got Away’, such is the ease of connection between the performers. Helen McGrath, when she appears as Andrew’s sister Roisín, awoken from sleep, is a joy to watch. She has tremendous stage presence and is immensely characterful. All three are members of The Corps Ensemble, a production company founded in 2015 by a ‘small group of actors and theatre practitioners who want to push their artistic limits and create a tightly knit, uninhibited and impassioned ensemble to present vital and exhilarating work for the stage’.
The premise of the play itself is a good one and will resonate with anyone who carries a torch for their first love. A Christmas Visit is a little slow to take off but comes with moments of laughter, nostalgia and poignancy. Stewart Roche also treats us to a hugely surprising, if somewhat implausible, twist at the end. And watch out for why Chicago is really called ‘the windy city’.
If you’re looking for a great evening out, head to Clontarf, park on the seafront, take a walk by the shore, eat an incredibly reasonably priced meal at San Sab Thai on Vernon Avenue, tip around the corner to a show at the Viking Theatre and finish off with a tipple downstairs in Connolly’s Pub. You can’t say fairer than that.
Runs Until 2nd December 2023.