Writer: Michael J Harnett
Director: Vinnie McCabe
Grab yourself a coffee or hot chocolate from the takeaway bar in Dublin’s iconic Bewley’s Café this lunchtime and head up to its theatre on the second floor where The Cloudspotter by playwright Michael J Harnett will captivate and move you.
The lights come up on 16 year old Thomas stood before the court. As his misdemeanors are being put to him in a cleverly crafted setting of the scene, Nan steps forward to plead for leniency. She has raised her grandson since his Mother died from the “scourge” of drugs. He is a good boy who goes to school “most days”. The young offender is released on probation into her care and they retreat to the cosy kitchen of their inner city flat near The Five Lamps pub.
The only problem for Thomas is that his beloved Nan, who’s in her seventies, is dipping into dementia. “I’m getting forgetful and I worry about it sometimes”. What concerns her most is the fate of her artful Grandson without a guiding hand. Certainly Nan’s other children, Annie, Dave, Jean and Lar don’t seem to have any interest in their nephews’ well-being, “I wonder what’s going to happen to the baggage?”. Thomas’ telling of his Fathers absence in his life gives rise to the title of the play.
In dramatic terms, Michael J Harnett’s script ticks every box. We laugh out loud at antics involving kettles, Sonny Knowles, Mrs Brennan’s gnomes and tagging Nan. (Annie) “Tag me Mother? How does that work?”, (Thomas) “I know a bloke”. There is intrigue about a movie being filmed in the Wicklow mountains which may or may not be real. And we feel terrible pity and heartbreak towards Thomas and Nan, not only for the tragic death of Thomas’ Mother but also for the devastating impact of dementia on their lives.
One daughter, Annie, checks in on her Mother. Brenda Brooks plays perhaps the most nuanced of the three characters. The part is in safe hands. Providing conflict in the piece, Brooks showcases Annie as hard and unsympathetic, “They’ll take you away whether you like it or not”. We see glimpses of a softer, kinder side, however, in a behind the scenes intervention over a wedding invite and her unexpected appearance at the grave of Thomas’s Mother. You may have come across Brooks, who is also a talented Singer, in works such as The Contraceptive Train, The Ha’penny Bridge and The Wireman.
Deirdre Monaghan is consummate in her portrayal of Nan. This is unsurprising given her accomplished bio to date which includes roles in productions such as Fair City, Game of Thrones, Inspector George Gently and Whistleblower. Monaghan’s on-stage chemistry with Gaiety School of Acting graduate Callum Maxwell as Thomas is utterly on point. The relationship between Grandmother and Grandson provides some deeply poignant moments. Maxwell is not only a promising young Actor but has written Oh Brother, which is to follow The Cloudspotter at Bewley’s Café Theatre this February.
It might be worth noting that while the venue is really lovely and inclusive, it is not large and so heated dialogue may be slightly too loud for the space.
Towards the end of the play Thomas comes to collect Nan from the Mater hospital and brings some clothes and shoes for her to wear home. He forgets tights but remembers to include a sparkly necklace. The gentle care with which he helps her dress is heartrending. Nan’s gentle crooning of Frankie Laines song, “I’ll take care of your cares for you, I’ll be there when you’re feeling blue” couldn’t encapsulate their close and loving bond more succinctly.
Credit to Vinnie McCabe’s direction. The Cloudspotter is communicated beautifully and seamlessly to its audience and dare I say it, has a little bit of the elusive magic that makes watching it a pocketful of joy in your day.
Runs until 4th of February 2023.