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Video shop drama rewinds to the 90s to deliver plenty of laughs

Straight to Video at The Civic, Tallaght; and Project Arts Centre, Dublin until tonight at Civic, Nov 9—Dec 11 at PAC

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Callan Cummins, Kate Gilmore, Derbhle Crotty, Colin Campbell and Emmet Kirwan in Straight to Video. Photo by Patrick Redmond

Callan Cummins, Kate Gilmore, Derbhle Crotty, Colin Campbell and Emmet Kirwan in Straight to Video. Photo by Patrick Redmond

Eoin O'Sullivan, who stars in Twenty Minutes From Nowhere

Eoin O'Sullivan, who stars in Twenty Minutes From Nowhere

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Callan Cummins, Kate Gilmore, Derbhle Crotty, Colin Campbell and Emmet Kirwan in Straight to Video. Photo by Patrick Redmond

Emmet Kirwan, playing Tallaght ­video store owner Barry in his own new play, is wearing Speedos in a brightly lit cupboard. It takes a few minutes to figure out that he is in a stand-up sunbed inside his shop.

Barry is having a midlife crisis. He has left his wife and is sleeping in the security room, cruising girls and applying suntan lotion to himself in moments of daft vanity. A gangster called Coach (Stephen Brennan) lures Barry into a dodgy video-pirating enterprise. Once a chink appears in his morality, Coach exploits this to drag Barry into deeper criminal waters.

Kirwan’s writing is cartoonish-funny and his characterisation is second to none. A community-led campaign against heroin pushers is in full swing on the streets outside. It appears we are in the land of the workplace drama; so far, so Billy Roche. We are transported sociologically and dramaturgically back to the 1990s.

Good as the first half is, the second takes off like a rocket. The inspired arrival of Denise (Derbhle Crotty doing a glamorous turn as an oracle figure in stiletto boots) alters the tone and catapults the play into the realm of theatrical magic. There are several first-rate verbal firecracker exchanges as the action heats up.

Director Phillip McMahon steers the ship gracefully, while keeping the pace fast and the energy high. All the performances shine: Kate Gilmore and Colin Campbell are the insouciant shop workers. She a proto-socialist, he a closeted gay man on a journey — both very funny. Callan Cummins makes a big impact as the oddball hanger-on nephew who adores the movies. And Lloyd Cooney, one of Coach’s henchmen, is a hard thug with a soft side. Kirwan himself in the central anti-hero role is outstanding.

Designer Grace Smart emphasises the comedy with a bright palette for her shop interior, whilst the positioning of street lamps and corrugated fences are a nod to the rougher outside world.

Producer Anne Clarke, for Landmark Productions in association with The Civic and Project Arts Centre, has spotted a real winner here. This invented world is clever, exciting and funny, but an essential sweetness in the creative energy is also hugely comforting. Just what audiences need at this time.

A farmer tries to cultivate gay love

Twenty Minutes From Nowhere at Bewley’s Café Theatre
until Nov 20

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Eoin O'Sullivan, who stars in Twenty Minutes From Nowhere

Eoin O'Sullivan, who stars in Twenty Minutes From Nowhere

Eoin O'Sullivan, who stars in Twenty Minutes From Nowhere

This new monologue play by Chris Kelly is a subtle piece, moving delicately along a low-key trajectory. Eoin O’Sullivan plays an only son growing up on a farm in Kerry. When a handsome blonde Latvian man, Alexander, comes to work briefly on the farm, our lonely young farmer becomes aware that he is gay.

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He has never met a gay man, cannot imagine a future as a gay man, and doesn’t see the point in coming out to his parents. His father will simply fret about who the farm will be passed on to. His parents die within a few years of each other, and he finally embarks on an attempt to find love with the help of a dating app.

The play is dependent on an accumulation of poignancy for its drama, as the now 34-year-old man prepares himself to go on a date with someone he has connected to online. He is both excited and terrified as he awaits his date, and these moments of vulnerability are well explored. But yearning, as a dramatic ingredient, is tricky to handle; it always carries the danger of being inert.

Opportunities to explore deeper issues of personal growth are missed. The writing is heartfelt, but we never get any real sense of why this man is so lacking in personal drive. Co-directors Martha Fitzgerald and Kelly create thoughtful mood shifts with simple lighting changes. But as an investigation into a rural Irish lonely gay life, this farmer doesn’t dig deep enough.


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