Thursday 21 November 2019

The Afters at Dolmen Theatre: A familiar hypocrisy hits home

The Afters

Dolmen Theatre, Cornelscourt, Dublin

Geraldine Plunkett, centre, with Rachael Dowling and Seamus Moran in The Afters
Geraldine Plunkett, centre, with Rachael Dowling and Seamus Moran in The Afters

Emer O'Kelly sees a comfortable slice of mundane life.

Ger Gallagher has had a fairly prolific writing career based on looking around her at the doings of Mr and Mrs Middleclass Average, their children and their neighbours. The Afters, her newest play, is another little slice of life that we can all recognise, with its mundane troubles, coping mechanisms and sad little secrets created by the need for respectability.

The Afters is set in a small-town hotel within easy reach of Dublin, at the tail-end of a wedding party. Seventy-something Mrs Loftus has sore feet and a determination, as the widow of the local TD, to lord it over her neighbours. Her daughter Jane, sinking into drudgery as her mother's un-thanked carer, has been forced to abandon a reasonably fulfilling career in publishing in London. Tommy McDaid is home from New Jersey to see his mother - a nicer if poorer person than Mrs Loftus. Indeed she once worked as the latter's charwoman.

Tommy has done well, despite a divorce. He runs his own small building company. So far so very recognisable.

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And of course, we soon discover, Jane and Tommy have a 30-year-old history. And you don't have to be Einstein to guess immediately what the history will reveal.

This being Ireland of the Million Hypocrisies, the small, terrible tragedy that will be revealed in the shadow of the mother and baby homes, family respectability and petty class one-upmanship is best described as tuppence ha'penny looking down on tuppence. Far from high class in their attitudes and susceptibilities this lot were reared.

And Jane and Tommy were the victims.

Gallagher handles it all extremely well, most of the digs hitting home with pinpoint accuracy, and the sense of devastation drawn with a sure hand, even if the denouement is little too close to happy-ever-after for absolute credibility.

Geraldine Plunkett gives real flesh and bone to Mrs Loftus, while Seamus Moran handles bewilderment and guilt with an equally steady hand as Tommy. Rachael Dowling is less successful, depending on head-tossing and hand-flapping rather than feeling to make Jane come alive.

Direction is by Caroline FitzGerald, and The Afters is at the Dolmen Theatre at Cornelscourt in Dublin.

The Afters is going to the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, from Tues, Nov 5 to Sat, Nov 9. Then to the Viking Theatre, Clontarf from Mon, Dec 2 to Sat, Dec 14.

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