Sunday 18 August 2019

Dublin Theatre Festival: Review - The Last Summer

Gate Theatre

Alan O'Riordan

There's a good joke in The Last Summer about how the only books that sell in Ireland are those with the coloured covers, and titles like Sex, Shopping and Champagne, written by people called Deirdre Deirdre or Sheila Sheila.

It's a brave joke too: writer Declan Hughes mocks chick-lit despite the fact that his play has many of that genre's clichés: the south County Dublin setting; the successful emigrant returned; a wrong marriage; a past love; secrets dredged up amid conversations about the price of property -- yep, you could imagine reading the blurb on the back of a pink paperback.

Hughes's particular part of south county Dublin is Dalkey. The action takes place on two days, in August 1977 and in August 2007, presented in alternating scenes. In 1977 a group of friends await their Leaving Cert results. Paul (Sam McGovern) wants to escape via a literature degree at Trinity; his friend Kevin (Kevin Shackleton) worries about being "a clerical officer in the department of the rest of my life".

Along with Tom (Paul Connaughton) and Larry (James Murphy), the two are also preparing for their rock band's first gig. In a summer of punk and disco, the lads' tastes are anachronistic, but Paul does read the NME and demonstrates its usefulness in a charming and funny sex scene with Caroline (Clare O'Malley).

Cut to 2007, and Paul (Declan Conlon) is back from New York, where he is an academic. Larry (Peter Hanly) is now an estate agent, blithe in his references to a "temporary blip" in the market.

Tom (Gary Lydon), a property developer, has his villa on Vico and Caroline (Cathy Belton) for his wife. And Kevin? He disappeared on that night in 1977, never to be seen again. Paul thinks he's ready to make up for his mistake of many years ago, when he left Caroline behind. But the looming mystery of what happened to Kevin makes you doubt he'll find undoing the past all that easy.

The Last Summer is the kind of well made play that would probably have made a better TV movie. However, under Toby Frow's direction, it builds to something quite absorbing. Robert Innes Hopkins' rotating set is a deft allusion to the low walls between Killiney and Dalkey.

Paul Keogan's lighting is as bright as those better summers of memory. Of course, we only imagine that they were better. But as The Last Summer shows, there's a fine line between what we remember and what we imagine.

Irish Independent

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