BWW Review: FLIGHTS, Omnibus Theatre
Barry, Pa and Cusack were once "the lads" and, as is the wont of lads everywhere, quickly pick up the bantz once the old gang get together again. But 34 isn't 17, and the new responsibilities are cramping their style. Well, they are for Cusack, who has a baby son and for Barry, whose partner has a new job in that London. Pa doesn't have any new responsibilities - but, somehow, that's worse. All, as Irishmen and Irishwomen have for generations, feel the need to take flight and the pull of the Ol' Country.
John O'Donovan's new play, landing in Clapham after touring his native country, is both a tad old-fashioned and fiercely contemporary. Not many plays or films today would have no women in the cast at all (even The Irishman and Joker squeezed in a couple each), nor much in the way of female agency, though the women do have the money. But that's a discussion for another time.
The more contemporary element is the examination of thirtysomething life for Ireland's post-Celtic Tiger generation (and, by extension, thirtysomethings everywhere). There's plenty of throwbacks to the drug-addled nights on the dancefloor and to teenage life in a rural town (Limerick - Limerick! - is the big city) in which everyone knows everyone and every boy has shifted every girl. (Yes, you might want to polish up your Roddy Doyle slang before taking your seat).
But there's also a present that is slipping through the fingers, life stalled by insecurities, about relationships, employment, finances. Even the best of opportunities comes freighted with problems - which makes a retreat to those carefree teenage years all the more attractive.
Liam is missing from the annual gathering, because his death is the reason for it. 17 years ago, Liam was killed on the road and nobody is quite sure how or why, though it haunts each of the lads in a different way. The plain fact is that suicide is the leading cause of death in England and Wales for men aged between 20 and 34 years of age. We never quite go there, but we don't quite retreat from it either.
Colin Campbell (Barry), Rhys Dunlop (Pa) and Conor Madden (Cusack) have much to do as the three men with whom we share a space for two and a half hours (in which they drink, play darts and snort coke - but we don't). Each quickly establishes their characters and then chips away at the facades to reveal the anxiety within. Each also delivers an individual monologue as Liam, three plays within a play.
Though there are laughs aplenty and a few gut-punching reveals, the play is probably half an hour too long. Sure the characters are rounded and charismatic, but there just isn't enough to keep the balloon in the air for as long as most Hamlets.
That said, O'Donovan's keen eye for life in small town Ireland and his willingness to strip down Barry, Pa and Cusack whilst retaining the sense that these are both individuals and 2020 everymen, makes for a play that is important, if somewhat gruelling.
Photo Ste Murray.