Friday 22 February 2019

Roddy Doyle pulls two perfect pints

  • Two Pints, Lonergan’s pub, Galway, and touring
  • Pumpgirl, Nun’s Island Theatre, Galway

Emer O'Kelly

Roddy Doyle's latest offering almost rivals Plato.

How long does it take to drink two pints? There are men (Uncle Arthur is still a largely male drink) who can down them in a twinkling; there are those who linger meditatively for an hour or more. But seldom does the consumption encompass a melancholy, touching, and fast-disappearing world view.

Roddy Doyle's Two Pints and a Packet of Crisps began life as an on-line skit. It was possible to imagine Doyle staring at the wall above his desk in frustration, and idling away because inspiration wouldn't come. Or maybe he realised, as he tapped away at the mordant, unpitying, and lugubrious invention of two ageing men communicating as effortlessly as the scholars of Plato's Republic, that he was producing a work of philosophical genius.

Either way, the two men found their way between the covers of a book. And now they're back where they belong, touring the pubs of Ireland, cut down to Two Pints, tucked into a corner, apparently oblivious to the other regulars (with the exception of the odd screwball local considered worthy of their passing attention).

The world around them has changed beyond recognition in the years they've been heaving themselves on to their stools. But they accept it uncomplainingly, even with mild amusement. They're safe, you see. Their uneventful marriages have contentment, and now they both have grandchildren, who as is common with all the men of their generation, have crept beneath their macho defences and are openly adored.

Of course, the macho defence is not a defence in the court of female belligerence: to be macho and male is to be guilty of oppression and misogyny. But not all men are embryonic Donald Trumps. The difference is that womanising men who talk endlessly about sex and profess to adore women, don't like women: they fear and dislike them. (And of course there's the old joke: people who actually have sex don't talk about it.)

Doyle's two jossers are secretly a little in awe of women, especially physically beautiful women. Their yardstick is Nigella Lawson: they both fancy her rotten. But they can be esoteric too: one of them has read bits of the Koran… because he fancied the late (and beautiful) Benazir Bhutto and her deep voice. (For younger readers, she was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, whose father had been executed for his politics, and was herself assassinated.)

One and Two understand each other perfectly, in a combination of a lifetime of shared reference points, and a dawning reality of the inevitability of death. One's 90-year-old father is dying (he dies in the course of the three evenings we're privileged to share) and like us all, he asks "what's it all about?" And he and Two know that for them both, life with all its tragedies (Two has lost a child at birth and still grieves silently and copiously) this imperfect world is all we've got.

It is achingly, breathtakingly funny even as it leaves you with a deep well of sadness inside. And it is played with awesome perfection by Lorcan Cranitch and Liam Carney under Caitriona McLaughlin's invisibly masterly direction.

It's an Abbey Theatre production playing at Lonergan's pub in Salthill, Galway (for Galway Arts Festival) and touring pubs in the west.

*******

The playwright Abbie Spallen positively drips with awards. One of them, back in 2007, was for Pumpgirl.

One could be nasty, and ask why. Or one could be charitable, and say merely that the play has dated disastrously.

You know what you're in for when the pumpgirl (a local young woman who works as a petrol pump attendant and is not famed for the strength of her knicker elastic) calls out to her occasional servicer (who has paramilitary connections) "How's the c**t, says I, meaning the wife."

What is politely called the c-word proliferates. It may well dominate speech in the play's setting, the once-named "bandit territory" of south Armagh, but the fact that it hammers in your ears means it's boring, and probably there solely for its "schlock" value. (And I might point out that the f-word proliferates in Two Pints but you barely notice it, so smooth and perfect is Roddy Doyle's ear for dialogue).

The storyline is equally a piece of fairly pointless schlock. Played by three characters, the pumpgirl, her Friday-night servicer (whom she discovers to be her true love when she is faced with a kind of reality), and the man's wife.

It's a series of sexually graphic monologues of what is usually called "rough sex". In other words, it's unpleasant, pointless, and of course tragic. But the structure is so contrived that the tragedy of abused and used women never rings true.

In a better production than this one, it might have some kind of sociological impact. But Andrew Flynn's direction is so drearily monotonous that the piece managed to strike me only as verging on the pornographic.

It's a Decadent production at Nun's Island Theatre in Galway, played by Samantha Heaney, Patrick Ryan and Seona Tully, designed (dully) by Owen McCarthaigh.

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