Sunday 18 November 2018

Play hellishly clever

Theatre by Emer O'Kelly

THE Last Days of God is blissfully blasphemous, exuberantly funny and achingly sad. The author and director Colin O'Connor was co-founder (with, among others, Conor McPherson) of Fly By Night Productions, the company staging the play at THEatre SPACE @ henry place in Dublin, and it does show the influence of McPherson's now phenomenally successful style. But it is still very much its own piece.Satan is the only character, but in telling us the story of the last days of a damned soul, she conjures up a kaleidoscopic pattern of Dublin low life as `The Mooch,' a heroin addict, struggles to survive the bet of his own damnation made between Satan and God. Everyone's in hell except God, who lives lonely and isolated in his refusal to forgive, understand, or acknowledge mistake or weakness. It's a variation on the old joke that the company's better in hell. But as Satan tells us, there's no fire there: it's too damp with tears; because hell is regret. Still, she doesn't come to the surface too often; she finds our affairs too depressing.

This is a clever, clever play: maybe at times a bit undergraduate in its awareness of its own cleverness, but very moving and very funny.

Valerie Spelman plays Satan with a splendid variety of Dublin accents, only slipping very slightly from time to time in her base dialect. Her timing is laconic, and her control of the streetwise humour exemplary. The author directs with an equally impressive lack of self-indulgence towards his own work, in a good set by Brendan Earley, although Megan Sheppard's lighting design seems erratic, and at times pointless.

A Fishpond All on Fire (lunchtime at Bewley's Café theatre in Grafton Street in Dublin) is Tif Eccles's first play. It has a lot of interesting moments while showing many of the unwieldy faults of first-time writing.

The central character is Patrick Conway, obsessed with gold, found guilty of the murder of his older brother, and locked in a secure mental institution for more than 20 years. It's set in the 1950s, presumably so that we can be reminded of the horrors of ECT treatment half a century ago, and is focused on the finding of a 3,000-year-old gold torqueon the Conway farm.

The whole thing becomes an uneasy mixture of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Mystic Knights of Tir na nOg, and the marriage is not one made in heaven: the imagery is convoluted, and the construction laborious.

Michael James Ford's direction holds it together heroically, however, and there are excellent performances from Gerry Walsh as Conway and Stella Madden as a nurse, although Walsh is rather too emphatic for the small space.

Good design by Nicola Hughes and Sinead Cuthbert.

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