Sunday 24 September 2017

Crime and punishment, Dublin style

The Collector, New Theatre, Dublin

Emer O’Kelly sees a viciously convincing portrayal of Dublin city life

Graeme Coughlan and Will Murphy in ‘The Collector’ — a convincingly brutal portrayal of soullessness and despair at the New Theatre, Dublin
Graeme Coughlan and Will Murphy in ‘The Collector’ — a convincingly brutal portrayal of soullessness and despair at the New Theatre, Dublin

Emer O’Kelly

A collector can be an eccentric benign figure: an Edwardian gentleman in tweeds and owlish glasses, trotting around flowery meadows with a butterfly net. Or he can be sinister and more visually familiar: a figure in a black leather jacket with dead eyes. That's the kind of collector in Daniel Wade's play of that name at the New Theatre in Dublin.

Hugh Bracken is a moneylender. And when he goes to collect on his loans he's accompanied by his monosyllabic friend Git Stokes. Git carries a useful toolbag: it has plenty of iron bars in it. And he knows how to use them. There's more than a touch of Pinter in the scenario; and if that sounds like a compliment, it's meant to be.

Wade has written an unrelentingly downbeat piece about the hopelessness of Dublin life in the 21st century: a town peopled by young men with no light in their eyes, as the defeated old barman Des Collins says. Living on the dole with a supplement of under-the-counter payments from his brother-in-law, he sees them all, and he can spot the light going out. It happened to his own teenage son before he hanged himself.

And now it's happening to his nephew Oren, a cocky young enforcer who has run out of time and rope at the hands of the bigger-time Hugh. Oren needed 10 grand for the funeral of his own young brother, who also hanged himself, because he couldn't face coming out as gay. And now Bracken has come to collect the loan he made, while the dead boy's one-time gay lover, home temporarily from America, must watch helplessly.

Certainly, the play is a bit too complicated for its own good, as those complexities make clear. But its violent heart is in the right place, as the author tries to grapple with the hideous tragedies that have become both mundane and horribly familiar in today's Ireland. Perhaps he tries to take on too much in 65 minutes by throwing homophobia, illegal moneylending, social deprivation and gangland intimidation into the same mix.

But it's viciously, convincingly brutal in its portrayal of soullessness and despair, and is well-staged enough to make you want to look away. Salvation is not an option for any of the characters.

The Collector is an Underdog production directed by Cian O'Ceallachain, with steadfast performances from Graeme Coughlan (as Oren); Will Murphy (as the lover); Michael Heavey (playing the barman); Kevin Brennan (as Hugh Bracken) and from Joseph Duggan (as Git).

There's no design credit - but it's an effective evocation of a sleazy basement bar.

Sunday Independent

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