Plot twist a step too far for Theatre Festival opener The Night Alive
Can everyone be saved? Should you even try? These are the questions asked by Conor McPherson's 2013 play, which had its belated Irish premiere last night to open this year's Dublin Theatre Festival.
A middle-aged man is helping a younger woman into his determinedly dingy Dublin bedsit, credibly created by designer Alyson Cummins.
The woman is covered in blood, her nose possibly broken. She is a stranger to him, he wants to be her saviour. But he's just Tommy (Adrian Dunbar), a wheeler dealer, the kind who sells dodgy black puddings and cigars to men in the pub, and the central character of this story. Tommy's partner in his almost legal endeavours is the less than ingenious but extremely endearing Doc (Laurence Kinlan, 'Love/Hate's Elmo), who soon arrives on the scene with a bag of stolen turnips.
And the girl is Aimee (Kate Stanley-Brennan), a prostitute who seems fated never to escape her downfall and has just been attacked by her boyfriend. Her temporary rescue sets in course a chain of unexpected events for all of them, but does anything really change?
Directed by McPherson himself, 'The Night Alive' begins with much well-observed dark humour, and moments of warmth and tenderness. McPherson spends time establishing these characters, giving us a sense of this peculiar almost family dynamic that extends to Uncle Maurice (Frank Grimes), who owns the house and lives upstairs with a stick that he likes to bang whenever there is too much noise. But there is very little story-building in these scenes, until suddenly the plot erupts with the arrival of a man in a strange suit and an act of brutal violence.
This abrupt and extreme dramatic thrust serves mainly to cause what had been very convincing to knot and ultimately unravel.
It is a step too far to return from. There are strong performances, particularly by Dunbar and Kinlan, but 'The Night Alive' focusses on the repercussions of a chance encounter and it seems these are lives lived without real repercussion.