Friday 19 July 2019

The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill: A small business gets anarcho-comedy treatment

Smock Alley Boys’ School, Dublin until July 6

The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill
The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill

Katy Hayes

An anarchic sensibility animates this new play by Mack Mirahmadi which is given spirited life by an energetic ensemble of knockabout performers.

Brothers Joey and Mick run a corner shop, their dwindling customer base being eroded by the recent opening of a Dunnes Stores outlet nearby. Their shop is eccentric, to say the least, with an unpredictable pricing policy, and strange stock choices including overpriced t-shirts that have been signed by non-celebrities. The older brother Mick is obsessed with face creams, which he liberally applies to improve his complexion. The younger brother Joey has a blue football strip to which he is devoted. A local homeless man Johno hangs around the shop; he has an especial friendship with a doomed pigeon called Alfie. Joey, in a fit of altruism brought on by a drunken stupor, has given the football socks from his precious blue set to Johno. And he now wants them back.

The story is as eccentric as the characters. Mick suspects the shop is being systematically robbed and his face creams are being interfered with. Joey is enraged by the loss of his special football socks. Dina, a customer in search of eggs, brings a spirited feminine energy to the stage with her carnality. Mary, a doddery old lady in a headscarf, leads a surprising late twist in the story.

All the characters have a propensity for violence and there is a bubbling comic aggression underlying the action. The influence of the writing of Martin McDonagh is evident: the pair of brothers, the surreal edge to everyday occurrences, and the over-the-top characterisations. The casual violence and absurdity is all pure Quentin Tarantino, through a McDonagh filter. Áine O’Hara’s set design clutters up the space nicely with anachronistic shop tags and piles of rubbish.

Co-directed by the author and Ciaran Gallagher, for Polliwog Theatre Collective, the action is full of energy and risk-taking, though the performances are often a bit slapdash. Barry John Kinsella is excellent as Joey, and Eimear Keating creates a memorable impression as Dina. Colm Lennon, as the homeless Johno, makes fine comic play with his versatile facial expressions.

Whilst the play engages with the idea of the dwindling fortunes of small businesses in Dublin city, ultimately it gets carried away with having fun and any coherent agenda is undermined by the general anarchy. However, the writing is genuinely original and surprising, and though it needs some smoothing out at the edges, this corner shop drama stands its ground.

Also this week: In The Window: Virtuosic performance of death-wish comedy

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