Monday 19 March 2018

A slice of Dublin life

Emer O\'Kelly

No Smoke Without Fire is set in the smoking area of a Dublin pub in 2013. It's in a rough area, and we meet its denizens, including the gullible Mrs Gibney, recently widowed and concentrating all her hopes on her apparently hopeless son, known as Lanky Larry to his contemporaries.

Then there's Tommo, Larry's mate, about to get married to his pregnant girlfriend. And her Liverpudlian cousin over for the occasion, complete with fifteen hundred quids' worth of new gnashers and two thousand quids' worth of new boobs. There's also Mary Kelly, whose twin sons are in gaol, and who is about to lose her job when the local bookie closes down; she's nobody's fool, and does a bit of what might loosely be called tom-catting on the side, but she's not about to take up the offer of similar employment across the water from yet another returned emigre. And there's Susie, the innocent Chinese cleaner who likes everybody, even though she's constantly being fired from even the most menial of jobs.

Altogether it's a nice little slice of Dublin life ... complete with the proceeds of a recent mysterious post office robbery, and a bit of judicious arson along the way.

Actually, Paddy Murray's play is a bit too complex for its own good: the plot, quite frankly, is somewhat unwieldy. But it's still a close to magical hour. What makes it so is Murray's mastery of Dublin argot, delivered by his characters with meaty and frequently hilarious gusto.

And then, of course, there's Mary Murray, sole performer on an empty stage. She peoples the space with such consummate skill that her audience feel themselves being shoved and poked at the crowded bar, choking in the smoky haze, an uneasy witness to the frayed tempers that range from the irritating and pesky to the dangerously violent ... and that's just the women. That's acting, folks.

No Smoke Without Fire is directed by Jimmy Smallhorne, and is at the Viking Sheds theatre in Clontarf in Dublin.


Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin has come up with an unusual take on Christmas repertory: a re-imagining of three stories, two well-known, one (by O Henry) less of a household name.

The first is It's a Wonderful Life, the Philip Van Doren Stern story immortalised by Jimmy Stewart on film, and still a part of most people's annual Christmas television viewing. The new version has is written and directed by Gary Duggan. It's not so much a re-imagining, however, as a relocation, as Georgie (Stephen Kelly) sits in a bar on Howth Head late on Christmas Eve, toasting the lost life he is about to end. He is guilt- ridden at having altered the bottom line on customers' accounts in the bank where he works to put them in credit, as he believes himself responsible for their financial stress and misery in the first place. He is joined by the ageless Lawrence (Gerard Byrne), cheerfully lugubrious as the time-travelling angel seeking his wings by helping the lonely and lost.

In time-honoured fashion he makes Georgie reflect on the good he has wrought in the world and sends him home to his wife for a new start. Except that despite excellent performances from the two actors (particularly Byrne), Duggan's script is rather plodding, more sermon than near-enchanted whimsy, and one hears more the swish of a cassock than the tinkle of Christmas angels making merry.

The second piece is definitely re-imagined: horribly, and by and large successfully. It's Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, given a new and ghastly life in a Dublin flat in 2013. It's Christmas Eve, and this little girl's mouth is packed with sachets of dope as she is turned out to sell them by her drunken father, his usual courier (her older brother) being unavailable due to being in jail.

Katie McCann performs her own re-imagining of the story, directed by Karl Shiels with brutal rigour. Not as streetwise as she imagines herself to be, McCann's little match girl is in a desolate place in body and soul; and as so often in such circumstances, it's the city's cruel predators who are drawn to her flame. McCann has done a fine job, despite a certain amount of self-indulgence: her language is too florid, and the piece is over-long.

Her imagining is good enough for audience hearts to ache without it being demanded of them. But there's real talent here.

Irish Independent

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