Gold stars all round
Teacher Mr McCafferty cares too much. He goes the extra mile for the kids and it is that extra mile that walks him into trouble. He has moved to a tough school, with problem kids and difficult families. But he's committed to his vocation and Jayden, a young lad in his class, is showing signs of possible dyslexia. This is slowing down his learning and causing him to act out. Mr McCafferty calls the parents in for a meeting. He wants them to sign a form to get their son assessed by an educational psychologist in order to get him resource hours.
The parents, Brian and Donna, have recently separated. Brian has anger issues, and has moved out into a flat on his own. But he has come to the realisation that he needs to confront his behaviour and has joined a therapy group. They are working-class. Mr McCafferty is a good deal posher and deliberately uses big words, which provokes defensiveness in Brian.
Once the couple are in the classroom, they acquire the vulnerability of children. "Gold star for me," says Brian. They both used to go to that same school. The difficulties of their relationship, as well as the sweet attraction at its core, slip out.
Written and directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan, this is a neat and shapely 90-minute three-hander. It was premièred last autumn in the Dublin Theatre Festival at the Civic Theatre and has been deservedly brought into the Peacock for a run. Maree Kearns' set is an almost-realistic classroom, but with blackboard walls. A few day-glo accessories shine in its otherwise pure ordinariness. Sound by Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty, and lighting design by Kevin Smith, add tension in a subtle way. Between them they create a satisfyingly jarring note in the realism.
Will O'Connell conveys the essence of teacher, his vocational dedication giving him just a touch of priggishness in his tank-top jumper. He plays the one character throughout. Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris play the parents, but at various intervals Jones becomes his own son, Jayden, aged nine, and Morris plays a little girl in his class, Kaylie. The stories unfold obliquely, with great subtlety, as the children and parents let details escape from them to create the full picture. All three performances are excellent. Jones and Morris skip between the adult roles and the nine-year-old kids convincingly, and as the crisis in their relationship becomes exposed, both performances deepen and toughen.
There is skilful manipulation of tone: much laughter for the first hour, but then that particular hush a theatre audience experiences after a sobering twist in a funny play. The show accumulates dramatic depth and becomes a serious interrogation of masculinity, relationships and parenting.
Writer/directors Golden and Horan demonstrate a consummate theatrical ability. A highly relatable story, which will chime with all parents of young kids. Top of the class.
Book it now
1 THE THREEPENNY OPERA
Lyric, Belfast, until Feb 10
Northern Ireland Opera and Lyric present this perennial from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, featuring classic favourites like ‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’. Directed by Walter Sutcliffe and conducted by Sinead Hayes.
2 HOW IT IS: PART ONE
Everyman, Cork, Jan 30 — Feb 3
Gare St Lazare’s latest foray into Beckettian territory is this adaptation of Beckett’s novel created specially for the Everyman stage. A world première production, directed by Judy Hegarty, featuring Conor Lovett.
Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, until March 3
Galway’s Druid presents John B Keane’s popular play in a new production by star director Garry Hynes. Myth, romance and harsh economics battle it out to create a destiny for young Sive in this great play from the Irish canon.
Polemical play tries to cover too much ground
Review: Home, The New Theatre, Dublin
This is an ambitious attempt by writer Megan O'Malley to tackle the thorny subject of the eighth amendment, armed with a Brechtian agit-prop tool. It doesn't quite come off, but is enjoyable in many ways.
The 50-minute play gives a vivid picture of student life. Sisters Anna (O'Malley) and Emily (Gemma Kane) are living in campus accommodation, getting into romantic scrapes involving unpleasant young men. Anna meets Mike (Gordon Quigley) on Tinder and they spend a drunken night together. As a result, Anna gets pregnant.
The ensuing conflict is two-fold: since Anna was extremely drunk, she could not consent to the sex. Did Mike rape her? She herself is uncertain, but her sister Emily is very clear about the matter. In a confusing plot twist, Emily reports Anna's rapist to the police. In the process, she shops her sister for ordering abortion pills online. The second conflict involves Anna being issued with an injunction to prevent her leaving Ireland to have a legal abortion abroad or from importing abortion pills.
Anna is tried in court for breach of the injunction. The play jumps back and forth from the court case to the drunken night out and to the investigation into the guy. The scenes are short and unspool rapidly, providing plenty of energy but at the cost of dramatic depth.
Finally, the audience are asked to vote whether Anna is innocent or guilty of breaching the injunction. The vote fell 32-12 in favour of her innocence the night I was there.
There is simply too much going on at once. The play is torn between the two subjects it is tackling: firstly, the issue of consent; secondly, the unwanted pregnancy/injunction. Debut director Fiona Frawley does her best to hammer this unruly text into a coherent shape, but the dramatic sprawl is uncontainable.
The show is marked by a political energy and conviction, and the court case and vote is a terrific idea. But in trying to cover too much territory, the play suffers from a lack of dramatic focus.