Thursday 24 October 2019

Wistful regret and bloody-minded hope

  • Port  Authority

Smock Alley, Dublin

  • Charlie’s a Clepto

Civic Theatre Tallaght

Garrett Keogh as Joe in 'Port Authority'
Garrett Keogh as Joe in 'Port Authority'
Clare Monnelly in the title role of 'Charlie's A Clepto'

Two revivals on tour are well worth seeing, writes Emer O'Kelly.

Watching Conor McPherson's Port Authority it's hard to remember that he wasn't even 30 when he wrote it in 2001; his understanding of the sad insecurities that shape anyone with the power to feel is quite extraordinary.

In Port Authority he takes three quintessential Irish men, Kevin in his early 20s, Dermot in his 40s, and Joe in old age, and lets them tell the stories they have lived as they flowered and died emotionally on the north shores of Dublin Bay. That there is a kind of redemption for all three is neither sentimental, cloyingly "spiritual", nor even immediately recognisable. Life isn't tidy, and McPherson knows it.

Kevin has moved into his first flat, yearning after his cool female flatmate, whose eyes are fixed on her non-residential boyfriend. His journey takes him through the maelstrom of coke and booze and a long physical walk before he finds a kind of freedom. And even that is (half shamingly), back at home with his parents.

Dermot, the self-deluding swaggerer with an eye on the main chance and social advancement, finds the hard way that "rugger buggers" aren't all booze and bonhomie: they expect people to deliver the workplace goods. And a loyal wife may not be socially adept, but her pragmatic disdain for his ambitions doesn't preclude her being a safe resting place.

And old Joe, from his resting place in the nursing home, finds that romance may have seemed out of reach, but every life has its moments: the magic lies in recognising the moments as just that, but cherishing them all the same.

Decadent from Galway have revived Port Authority for a national tour (beginning at Smock Alley in Dublin). It is engrossing, despite director Andrew Flynn's imposition of a slow pace, and a seeming inability to give the three characters the connection implicit in the text.

There are other problems, chiefly with Jarlath Tivnan's playing of Kevin. There's a failure to project the innocence beneath the cockiness, while technically, Tivnan's tendency to punctuate every phrase with a gesture is distracting. Patrick Ryan's Dermot fares better, but he too doesn't quite convey the naivete beneath the character's seeming boorishness.

It's left to Garrett Keogh as the wistfully ageing Joe to deliver on McPherson's message of regret for lost opportunities, which he does with restrained melancholy.

There is no programme credit for set design, but Mike O'Halloran's uncertain lighting, re-lit by Sarah Timmons, does the production no favours.


For those who missed it in 2017, or even those who didn't, the countrywide tour of Clare Monnelly's Charlie's a Clepto is not to be missed. The Axis Ballymun production will be on the road until the end of April (it began last week at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght).

Clare Monnelly in the title role of 'Charlie's A Clepto'

It's hard to find a fault in the production: it avoids all the pitfalls of monologue theatre by bringing everyone - from nutcase friends through parents with too many problems of their own to look out for their daughter - vividly to life.

And Charlie herself is drawn with such brazen, vibrant optimism that Monnelly makes you believe that rising above loneliness, disappointment, disadvantage, and exploitation can be no more than something to be overcome with a bit of effort... if you have the incentive.

And Charlie has the incentive: a little person called James, the son who has given shape to her life, but not before, almost through no fault of her own, he has been taken into care. The product of a single encounter, his father's reaction was to say "get rid of it". The blow was a double one, because Charlie had fancied herself in love.

Now she has overcome her light-fingered tendency (the doctor has told her she's a kleptomaniac), wants him back… desperately. She even has a real job, albeit a "crap one". She's straightened herself out until she's only 24 hours from the final "social" interview where the big decision will be made.

She's tempted just to go to bed until it's time. But then disaster strikes, in the form of her hopelessly inadequate minor crook of a father, who turns up at her flat carrying a suspicious bag. And as the dominoes start to fall, tough little Charlie shows what she's made of.

Charlie's a Clepto (she lost a spelling bee championship at school by going for "c" instead of "k") is utterly absorbing, the underlying pathos pulling at your heart strings as you will the determined little protagonist on to win out. Does she? Well...

Under Aaron Monaghan's direction, and staged with just lighting changes designed by Suzie Cummins, Clare Monnelly delivers her own play with heartfelt sincerity and a huge load of talent.

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