Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin until February 4, lunchtime
This is a slice of kitchen sink drama that neatly captures the complexities of the not uncommon Irish scenario of a grandmother rearing the child of daughter who died from drugs.
Nan lives happily in her inner-city home, looks after 17-year-old grandson Thomas, and argues with her daughter Annie, who doesn’t visit very often. Young Thomas is the apple of her eye, but the rest of the family have a more jaundiced view of him; he has been accused of stealing his uncle’s wallet. Also, he has been caught robbing a warehouse, and the judge has put him on probation. Thomas sometimes doesn’t come home at night, leaving Nan frantic. Is he with his girlfriend, or up to no good?
Parcels accumulate in the flat, and Nan wonders if they are stolen. She covers for her grandson in the face of criticism from Annie. And when Nan starts forgetting things, like leaving the tap on or boiling the kettle dry, Thomas covers for his grandmother, to prevent the family from putting her in a home.
Deirdre Monaghan is winning as an emotionally honest Nan. Newcomer Callum Maxwell has charm as well as intensity as Thomas; his vibrant account of a film set, which he may or may not have visited, is a tour de force. Brenda Brooks has the more grumpy part of the daughter Annie, and she carries it persuasively.
Emotional intensities are finely tuned by director Vinnie McCabe and the pain that Thomas has experienced feels real: losing his mother at 14 and being discarded by his remaining aunt and uncles. Like Nan, the audience is on his side.
Michael J Harnett has written a touching mini-epic. It aims high as a picture of a whole family, who have gone up in the world while not bringing all members along. This is the sort of Dublin family portrait created by the great Maura Laverty, whose play Tolka Row became Ireland’s first TV soap opera. Harnett’s writing is in this soap opera vein, but he isn’t afraid to push a more emotionally operatic element, and the lines are smart and good. A satisfying gem of a show.