Review: Playing the beautiful patriot game
Theatre: Tina's Idea of Fun, Peacock Theatre Dublin
Sean P Summers' new play is part of the Abbey's Waking the Nation 2016 centenary season. It is set in 2011 during the State visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, the first by a British monarch since independence. A first-rate idea, it takes the temperature of a group of working-class Dubliners as the visit impinges on the fringes of their lives.
Tina struggles with alcohol addiction, having weaned herself off heroin. Her mother looks after her teenage son Aaron during the week, and he comes to her most weekends. Aaron and his pal hang out with a local oddball Paddy who allows them drink cans in his flat. Paddy is an old-school republican and objects to the impending royal visit. A nervy edginess in Paddy's persona amplifies a description of violence in his past.
Director Conall Morrison ramps up the intensity very early, with mixed effect. Andrew Connolly shines as the dignified and understated Paddy, and Scott Graham creates a striking presence as teenager Aaron. Hilda Fay's performance as Tina could be dialled down a couple of notches. Sarah Morris as her friend Edel is too loud, and much of the laughter feels forced. A more subtle approach would have served the play better.
A key turn of events is a malevolent act performed by Tina; we wait for clarity on her motivation, which never comes. It is a gaping dramaturgical hole in this otherwise clearly imagined work.
The brilliant and best passage in the writing is the confrontation between the inherited and deeply felt republicanism of Paddy, and the shallow patriotism expressed about the Irish football team by Edel's husband Dave; the beautiful game has become the new terrible beauty.
As with David Ireland's recent new play in the Peacock, which also used the Irish football team as a patriotic yardstick, this work is a serious grappling with the concept of national identity. It is a striking piece of new writing offering much-needed contemporary relief from all the history-based work surrounding the centenary.