BWW REVIEW: Presented With Heart and Humour, Hope Rises Out Of Bleak Existence In THE NIGHT ALIVE
Saturday 16th September 2017, 8:15pm, Old Fitz Theatre
In the tradition of resorting to humour to handle weighty and desperate situations, Conor McPherson's THE NIGHT ALIVE considers the hope that can come from having the right outlook when life keeps throwing setbacks and challenges. Director Maeliosa Stafford has created a fabulously entertaining and engaging interpretation of McPherson's award winning play for O'Punsky's Theatre in association with Red Line Productions.
Fitting with Red Line Production's theme of Unspoken stories that most people would like to believe don't exist, THE NIGHT ALIVE takes the audience into the bedsit hovel of an apartment that the middle aged Tommy (John O'Hare) rents from his Uncle Maurice/Morrie (Patrick Dickson) who lives upstairs. Whilst Tommy is still married, he's been separated from his wife for two years and barely sees his two teenaged children and seeks out an existence as a removalist and odd-job man with his friend and sometimes houseguest, the mentally handicapped Doc (Laurence Coy). One night the essentially good Tommy Rescues a young woman from being beaten up by her 'boyfriend' and he brings the bloodied Aimee (Sarah Jane Kelly) back to his home for safety. Aimee ends up staying at Tommy's for a number of nights, sleeping on the camp bed usually reserved for Doc. She strikes up odd friendships with Tommy, Doc and even the cantankerous Uncle Morrie but Aimee's past catches up with her, upsetting the lives of the house's inhabitants, permanent and transient.
Concept Designer Amanda McNamara has created an incredibly detailed squalid apartment for Tommy and his friends to inhabit. Rubbish is strewn about with multiple garbage bags littering the space to the point that Doc is unsure if all of them are trash. A pile of washing sits by the camp bed. Tommy's single bed is as he got out of it that morning and plates and cups stand where they were last used. Photos of Tommy's children are tacked to the wall and record covers are displayed as artwork on the grimy walls. Martin Kinnane (Lighting Design) illuminates the space to represent the moon light streaming in the window, rationed lighting from the box that Tommy must feed coins and bolder daytime lights whilst the sound design connects the scene with steel mandolins and cellos over scene changes connecting the work to its Dublin setting and the odd banging of Uncle Morrie's walking stick from above when Tommy and his friends make too much noise.
McNamara's costuming shows that Tommy isn't as much of a lost cause that his crumbling surroundings would imply. He's neatly dressed in clean jeans and a football jersey and he scrambles to tidy up when Aimee is out of the room indicating he still has some pride despite the blows life has dealt him. The costuming makes it clear that Uncle Morrie remembers a more formal past, appearing in jacket button down shirt whilst Doc is in ill-fitting jeans and layers of flannel. Outsider Aimee arrives in mini-skirt and sparkly heels but quickly settles in to Tommy's world, making an outfit out his oversized pyjama pants and t-shirt. Aimee's ex Kenneth (Darren Sabadina) stands out against the simplicity in fitted black ensemble of leather and denim adding to his sinister nature.
The work is presented with an honesty and good dose of Irish charm as they make light of their situation, accepting it for what it is and making do, sharing what little they have with a stranger. Coy is delightful as the 'slow' Doc who generally takes a little longer to process what is going on but also has moments of remarkable insight and clarity. He captures Doc's childlike innocence and faithful loyalty to Tommy with and endearing grin and look of confusion. When he arrived hoping to stay, thrown out of his sister's place, again, his disappointment and distress that Tommy won't take him in is pitiful. His fear that Tommy will abandon him in favour of Aimee is heartbreaking.
As Uncle Morrie, Dickson presents the old man as cranky and miserly with an underlying anger and regret that an argument resulted in the death of the love of his life. Whilst Uncle Morrie initially seems hard on Tommy, viewing him as a burden, Dickson lets the old man's gruff exterior slide at times, reminiscing on the past when Tommy used to want to spend time with the uncle and aunt that raised him or making friends with Aimee when she's trying to hide from him.
As Aimee's ex boyfriend and possibly pimp Kenneth, Sabadina strikes a sinister figure in skintight jeans, leather jacket and shaved head. He exudes the volatility of someone mentally unstable and possibly drugged up as he turns on Doc in a shocking violent attack. He also adds the surreal, supernatural element that McPherson is known for and presents a believable danger whenever he is around.
The only female in the story, Sarah Jane Kelly expresses Aimee's vulnerability that sits beneath her streetwise bravado that initially regards Tommy with caution, weighing up the generosity with deciding if he is a threat. As Aimee makes herself at home Kelly ensures that the young woman is gradually drawn into the group, made easier by Doc and Tommy's natural hospitality that sees Doc offering her peanuts before he's even figured out who she is and Tommy offering to buy her shampoo on the first morning in the home. Whilst Aimee finds stability with Tommy, Kelly also conveys that the young woman has hidden issues of her own that Tommy hasn't necessarily discovered yet and they dance around what type of friendship they are in as he tries to protect her and she sees the desperation of her situation.
Whilst this is an incredibly strong, tight ensemble, THE NIGHT ALIVE is Tommy's story and O'Hare presents the man that has found himself down on his luck after a string of failures with an honesty and humility that ensures that he doesn't seek pity but rather just shares his life, as it is. Whilst Tommy has found himself in a bed-sit apartment, unable to speak to his children, O'Hare expresses the man's understanding that life is how view and he maintains a positive but realistic outlook for the most part. He presents Tommy with a likable and welcoming, trustworthy image with a nuanced performance that sees him trying to be careful as to what impression he is giving Aimee and being mindful not to scare her off.
THE NIGHT ALIVE is a good balance of comic and contemplative, prompting the analysis of how we view people, whether we write them off on appearance before getting to know them, how we value friendships and how we approach life's challenges. Whilst based on 'ordinary' people, Stafford and his cast ensure that you want Tommy, Doc, Aimee and even Uncle Morrie to have something go right for them, even if they don't complain about their situation. Do not miss this wonderful performance.
Old Fitz Theatre
13th September - 14th October 2017