Tuesday 20 February 2018

Theatre: Monsters old and new

Powerful message: Lalor Roddy and Steve Blount (standing) in Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts at the Abbey
Powerful message: Lalor Roddy and Steve Blount (standing) in Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts at the Abbey

Emer O'Kelly

Jimmy McAleavey's first full play for the Abbey, Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts, has an almost epic compass. He asks us to question statehood, and humanity's attitudes and approach to that entity. Is it a state of mind, a political philosophy, a piece of land? And how far are we prepared to go in bringing it into what we believe to be a satisfactory focus?

McAleavey's conclusion is that it is a trap that betrays humanity, a honeypot of rhetoric that leaves a black cesspit where our souls should be.

Wee Joe and Nig are old-time Provos, haunted by memories of the mangled corpses they have left in their wake. They despise the present, full of do-gooders trying to "reconcile" them with their victims' families; but that's the price they have to pay for housing and the booze and pills they hope will be an antidote to the bad dreams.

But it's not the murders they have perpetrated that bother them in themselves: that was war, and tough tit. The two ageing subversives are consumed with hatred for their former leaders who have exchanged the paddy wagon for the black limo: the "Republican" signatories of the "peace agreement." They've lost the "war", and that's the cause of the nightmares. So Wee Joe has found a solution: carry on the war until it's won, then all the murders will have been worth it, and the ghosts will be laid.

Monsters Dinosaurs Ghosts is the story of how the two men, along with a shadowy control figure and a new-style Young Turk republican, even more amoral than his predecessors if that were possible, go about yet another gruesome atrocity, amidst plots and counterplots, and shadings of revenge and punishment.

Therein lies its weakness: the play's structure is far too complex for its own good, despite the clarity of its message, and its layers of mordant humour. But the message does come through loud and clear: violence destroys the perpetrator as much as the victim, and throwing yourself into its bottomless pit will never unearth absolution or lost humanity.

Caitriona McLoughlin directs Lalor Roddy and David Pearse as Nig and Wee Joe, with Ryan McParland as L, and Steve Blount as the shadowy Tommy. Technical credits go to splendid work from Maree Kearns for set, Kevin Smith for lighting, and Vincent Doherty and Ivan Birthistle for sound.

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