The emigrants are home. Good news for family, better news for Bunty's pub. Indeed, it's in this most dingy of small-town watering holes that the men who left behind 1950s' Ireland stage their annual get-togethers. This is where they swap stories and cigarettes. It's where they start fights and sing songs. They sing about what it means to be Irish. They sing about the country they left to pursue bigger and better things. Jimmy (he stayed here) enjoys the company.
Goldfish (he moved to America) now carries a comb in his pocket. Peter (home from England) gets hammered and falls through an old neighbour's window. And Christy ... well, Christy has been earning money in England, too. Through what means, though, is something that not even Mrs de Burca would want to know.
And this is what keeps a new production of Tom Murphy's The House above water. With a running length of three hours, this fascinating story of home, family and property could have done with a little trim around the sides. But there are secrets here that take a little longer than expected to come out.
At its heart, The House is about acceptance. Identity. Belonging. Or, at least, the search for all three.
Christy Cavanagh (Declan Conlon) grew up in someone else's family. Whether or not he's a better man for this, we'll never quite know.
But he loves the de Burcas and their home. And the de Burcas certainly are fond of him. The mother (Eleanor Methven) adores him. Her daughters take things further -- each one harbouring their own feelings for Christy (an unlikely ladies' man).
But The House is also about a piece of property. And this place is up for sale. This lively production does well to establish some fairly convincing relationships between friends, family members and potential lovers. It's also a tragedy.
And though many will focus on its central theme of broken dreams and emigration, the important thing is that The House is a fine piece of theatre. HHHHI
Running at the Abbey Theatre until July 14