Review: Magpies on the Pylon

The New Theatre

Chris Wasser

Jim doesn’t want to see anybody today. Jim is dressed all in black, and he’s just sitting there, alone in a tiny bedroom with a couple of holy statues and a bottle of Jameson for company.

A framed picture of Pope John Paul II hangs over the bed. On the adjacent locker rests a picture of Tommy, Jim’s 23-year-old son.

It was on this day, one year ago, that Tommy took his own life. Like he already said, Jim doesn’t want to see anybody today.

A cold and often harrowing portrayal of one man’s grief and misunderstanding, playwright and actor Michael Collins’ Magpies On The Pylon is not an easy piece to sit through. Given its delicate subject matter (mental health, alcoholism, suicide), how could it be?

Jim (a traveller) played by Collins (a renowned talent, and a member of the Irish Traveller community) simply can’t get his head around his son’s death.

Thus begins the end of his relationship with his wife, his other children, the community and the local priest.

Jim loses touch; he loses faith — he is at risk of losing everything, if he doesn’t talk to somebody soon. But why didn’t Tommy talk to his old man? That is the question that keeps Jim up at night. It’s distressing stuff; an all-too-real account that, though a little scrappy around the edges, leaves a hell of a mark.

Armed with a naturalistic script that manages to find a balance between light (Jim’s stories of riding in the van with his son) and shade (everything that follows Tommy’s suicide), Collins has already done half his job.

Director Mick Rafferty, on the other hand, might be advised to tighten up proceedings.

The magpie motif is creaky; the sketchy recordings, a tad amateur and the set thrown together — but these can all be improved.

What’s important is Collins’ devastating performance as a parent consumed with anger and despair. This is a play that kicks and squeezes at your heart. Again, it’s hard work. It’s also an important piece of theatre.

Ends Saturday

Rating: ***