The bleakest of subjects and the blackest of humour
Ulster American Abbey Theatre, Dublin Until April 20
David Ireland's clever, abrasive play is a terrific, fun night out and, at the same time, an excoriating investigation into Brexit, Britishness, Northern Irishness and sexism. It is a cliché to say that conflict is an essential ingredient in drama, but it is also true. And conflict has been an essential element in Northern Irish identity - a reason the region provides so much good writing for theatre.
Unfolding in real-time over 80 minutes, the play covers a first meeting between an English director, Leigh (Robert Jack), a Northern Irish playwright, Ruth (Lucianne McEvoy) and an American star, Jay (Darrell D'Silva). It is the night before they are due to start rehearsals for Ruth's play. The London opening has sold out, owing to the presence of the famous, Oscar-winning Jay; he is a sentimental, Irish-American from a Catholic background. In reading the play, Jay has made a fundamental error of interpretation. He thinks the lead character, Tommy, is a republican thug, when in fact he is a loyalist thug. Ruth soon declares her Britishness, with a capital B, and the presence of Jay in her play comes under threat.
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Jay is a preening narcissist and borderline sociopath, impulsively blurting out the troubling, dark side of his brain. Early on, when the two men are alone, he muses that rape is always wrong, but if he had to rape someone, it would be Princess Diana. This outrageous little verbal bomb ticks throughout the play, finally exploding.
Playwright Ireland is alert to the instability of the ostensible progress made post #MeToo. His play cunningly lifts the veil on the self-censorship engendered by the current mood. Ireland's other major satirical target is the perception of Northern Ireland by the English. In particular, the English theatre's embrace of the Irish play.
Director Gareth Nicholls steers this combustible vehicle skilfully, with escalating waves of rage. The performances are all terrific. Designer Becky Minto creates a realistic set and costumes all in shades of grey; Jay's devilish, red-tinted sunglasses foreshadow the possibility of blood. The humour is entirely black.
Echoes of Martin McDonagh's writing style, his baiting of political correctness and relishing of violence, are all present. The underlying influence of Quentin Tarantino is made explicit here. These writing tics are a vital ingredient. Ireland is a serious writer with plenty to say but is determined the audience be royally entertained while he says them. This production from Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre is a most welcome visitor and may have found its ideal audience in Dublin.
The Stardust tragedy remembered
48 Smock Alley Boys' School, Dublin Until tonight
Denim and Doc Martens, along with a synth score by Dylan Tongue Jones and snatches of early 1980s disco hits, provide an appropriate aesthetic for this play about the 1981 Stardust tragedy. A Valentine's night disco in Artane turned to carnage when fire broke out and escape was hampered by chained fire exits. Forty-eight people died, hundreds were injured.
Gemma Kane's 70-minute début play for No Desserts follows two young couples searching for romance and for meaningful employment (this was the 1980s) in their north Dublin suburb. Sarah (Kane herself) and Tom (Niall O'Brien) struggle with an on-off tempestuous romance. Maggie (Emily Fox) and James (Laurence Falconer) are constantly on the verge of getting together. Sinead Purcell's set, with its beermat floor and terrible 1970s wallpaper, is striking. Disco atmospherics and smoky confusion are provided by Shane Gill's inventive lighting.
The writing is uneven and the concerns inconsequential, but under Clare Maguire's careful direction, this young and inexperienced cast make a virtue of their uncertainty in recreating the essential normalcy of the teenage night-clubbers. Despite rough edges, the evening has a cumulative, tragic power.