This sassy Bewley’s lunchtime production will lift your spirits and make you smile
Next Please St Stephen’s Green Summer House
Civic Theatre online
Imagine the only angst in your life is working out the etiquette of outdoor dating. That’s what Jo and Mel face. It hasn’t always been like that. They’ve both had their problems with relationships. No spoiler here – you’ll find out when you see the play. And try and see the play. Despite their past real problems, and current socially frantic ones, Jo and Mel will lift your spirits.
Next Please is a Bewley’s lunchtime production, staged twice daily from Wednesday to Saturday at the Summer House in St Stephen’s Green.
The author is Aisling O’Mara, who also plays in it, and it’s a bit overwritten; but it still manages to keep a wry smile on your face throughout.
Everything is recognisable, from insecurities about what to wear for date acceptability, to maintaining your street cred by choosing the right kind of coffee. And then there’s the all-important “x” at the end of the text: to include or not to include, especially when you’re not sure if you’re being stood up.
Mel (Sarah Morris), a Tesco checkout operator, has always known she’s gay: “I didn’t turn it, I am it,” as she says, and her only problem was telling her beloved grandmother… who had already guessed. “She said she’s old, not stupid,” as Mel says. And Mel has grown up seeing a perfect example of true love in watching her grandparents, even if she was only 12 when her grandfather died.
Now a veteran of the gay scene, Mel is in demand, as she says proudly, because after all, she works at it – looking the way she does doesn’t come easy. And today she’s on a first date with Jo (Aisling O’Mara), who isn’t exactly as sure of herself. But then, this is the first time she’s dated a woman, and the score is an empty, slightly terrifying page.
Jo is a nurse, under stress from long-term duty in a Covid-positive ward, and her considerable romantic experience (most of it kind of downbeat and unfortunate) has always been with men: “I’m a radar for assholes”, including long-term ex-lover Conor. But she’s had “the big three: the man, the job, the ring”.
The dialogue is as sassy as the playing, with the two actors sparking off each other with obvious delight under Iseult Golden’s equally sparkling direction.
Altogether, Next Please could be described as parachuting in as part of the light at the end of the long tunnel we’ve been hearing so much about.
Eight short plays, all based on Zoom calls across the Atlantic, all by women writers, and apparently inspired by the facial expressions of the actors involved. Quirky idea, what?
Except it’s all visibly a bit of a strain, an attempt to find something new in the wearisome, repetitive effort of bleak, angst-ridden communication.
This far into the pandemic, with yet another surge threatened on the horizon, there’s nothing left to explore in five-minute segments of harassed people trying to communicate without the panacea of touch. And the pieces are so compressed that it’s frequently impossible to work out the relationship, or lack of relationship, between the Zoomers. They may be designed as snapshots, but you’re supposed to be able to see what’s in a snapshot.
And while I’m at it, why make a point of them all being by women writers – again?
That’s not to say that AboutFACE, the company in residence at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, don’t do their best with Transatlantic Tales under Paul Nugent’s direction. They do, and quite a lot of the performances ring true.
But despite having taken fairly extensive notes as I watched them, 24 hours later, I couldn’t really recall most of the pieces: they had faded into the vast miasma of distraught misery and loneliness which has been pretty well the totality of online drama since March 2020.
And that’s with having admiration for, and sympathy with, all the attempts at making work to provide employment for theatre professionals.
The impressively visceral Daniel, written by Catherine Higgins-Moore, sees Mick Mellamphy and Anna Nugent cast as the separated parents of a dead child – the eponymous Daniel, whose memory looms large on what would have been his 18th birthday, which his increasingly hysterical mother insists on celebrating.
And there’s a good touch of Grand Guignol in Who’s Your Baby? by Alanna D Merriman, in which a man tries to cut the connection with his highly paid dominatrix prostitute/mistress. He can’t afford the sessions any more, but there’s always a price to pay, and this time it’s already gruesomely in the deal.