Writer: Conor McPherson
Director: Conor McPherson
Reviewer: Rachel Rafferty
As the play opens, we witness a strange encounter. In what appears to be a gritty, cluttered living room Tommy the main protagonist, is leading a woman he has just met to the bathroom so she can clean up. This is the beginning of an unusual relationship, the fruit of a chance encounter. Aimee a young prostitute and the victim of a vicious attack by her boyfriend/pimp, has just been rescued by Tommy, who it transpires begins to fall for her. Thus begins The Night Alive, acclaimed playwright Conor McPherson’s latest work, and festival offering.
McPherson’s creative, distinctive masculine persona is once again evident. Tommy, an uneducated Wicklow man with a married past lives in a shoddy bedsit near the city centre of Dublin in the house of his uncle Maurice. With his younger friend and protégé Doc, Tommy runs a small business cleaning out people’s sheds, doing up gardens and general wheeling and dealing. Problems arise when Aimee’s pimp comes looking for her.
In terms of his canon, we are on familiar territory here; McPherson’s men are misfits. The notion of the male character as the oddball, or the loner is not too far removed from that much-hackneyed cliché, the vagrant or the tramp, a trope that is so prevalent in the history of drama in these isles. McPherson writes so well about men on the edge, men who both compete and bond but who can never really relate to women. These are isolated working class men like Tommy whose fragmented identities are covered over by an outward show of braggadocio and go-get machismo. Not so the vulnerable Doc, a very different character to Tommy. Laurence Kinlan’s Doc is a man-child, a lost soul. Interestingly, there is a mutable dependency about Doc’s attachment to his mentor father figure, because Tommy needs Doc as much as Doc needs Tommy.
Adrian Dunbar has a wonderful stage presence. His Tommy was a mix of oddball eclectic energy and charisma that is so typically likeable in McPherson’s men. Kate Stanley Brennan’s performance was monosyllabic but powerful; she brought a truthful presence and fragility to the hapless Aimee. Veteran performer Frank Grimes was wonderfully authentic as the curmudgeonly, and alcoholic uncle Maurice, while Ian-Lloyd Anderson’s Kenneth had just the right blend of weird and menace.
By far the most delightful part of the performance was the climatic dance scene that occurred in the middle. It was a joy to watch, fervent, dynamic and passionate!
Where the play’s versimilitudedipped somewhat was the stabbing scene. It is of course challenging to authentically show extreme violence on stage without falling into ham; however, the interaction and gestures of this particular scene were slightly over acted.
Having said that, The Night Alive has so much going for it. It is a funny, entertaining and thought-provoking presentation. A show well worth seeing!
Photo courtesy of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Runs till 4th October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.