by Robert Massey
Dublin: The Helix September 30 - October 11
Presented as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival
Directed by: Jim Culleton
Featuring Bryan Murray, Luke Griffin, Alan King, Eamonn Hunt, John Lynn
Touring: Civic Theatre, Tallaght October 13 - 18, Tricycle Theatre, London, 3 - 22 November, 2008
Robert Massey’s third play has altogether too much of the feeling of a first. Though presented by Dublin’s Fishamble theatre company, whose dedication to first time authors and edgy popular work has made an important contribution to Irish theatre, the play feels more like something from a student drama festival by a young author than a fully developed piece.
It’s a comic thriller, assembled from familiar elements of other works in the genre. It’s primary thematic focus is the notion of gambling and addiction to gambling, and it is around this that the plot also revolves. A former teacher turned cab driver, Carl (Alan King) is in debt to an amoral ‘businessman’, Jack (Bryan Murray), who, following a lengthy lecture on the meaning of life laced with metaphors and asides, gives Carl until midnight to produce the three thousand euro he owes him. Carl turns to George (Eamonn Hunt) the father of his dead wife, and to Bush (John Lynn), a youthful lothario, both of them also cab drivers. All three present themselves to Jack and his dim but violent son, Fred (Luke Farrell), in the hopes of reaching a settlement of some kind. As it so happens, a robbery planned by Fred has gone wrong that very day (how convenient), and if George and Carl will go and fetch a certain suitcase left in the woods down the country, Jack will consider the matter settled.
You’re yawning already, aren’t you? Yes, the plot is so painfully tired that it would take a playwright of some skill to enliven it. Massey is not without skill, but he’s coasting on one-liners and caricature here and there’s only one way it can really go. There are some nice bits of dialogue, and one scene in particular works very well, where Bush, who has been sleeping with Fred’s wife and has a picture of her buttock tatoo on his cell phone, is waiting at the gangsters’ home as a ‘hostage’ while his buddies fetch the bag. A nicely plotted scene ensues where Bush is on the verge of discovery as Fred takes his phone, but distracts the dimwitted thug with talk of how the National Lottery is rigged. It’s a classic bit of sit-com farce, and it plays out beautifully.
The rest of the play is much less interesting or effective. In fact, most of it is unnecessary. The first two scenes are almost entirely redundant in dramatic and narrative terms. Only in scene three does the drama really begin, and because the characters frequently summarise what is going on, the audience actually has enough information from scene three to start getting on with things, and at a point when something interesting is actually happening (Jack and George, old friends turned enemies, meet). There’s a really bad scene with George and Carl in the moral quagmire of the symbolic forest featuring poor backstory exposition and a woeful set of double reversals, and the play eventualy comes to a fairly abrupt climax and presents a predictable and uninteresting resolution. At the end of the day, it is entirely unnecessary theatre.
Look, the bottom line here is that this is not supposed to be Chekov. It is a genre piece with a mix of comedy and drama that never takes or challenges the audience, but gives them plenty of familiar things to enjoy. There are some laughs in there, yes, but there isn’t much real drama. Though Bryan Murray registers pretty convincing menace as Jack and Eamonn Hunt is believably world-weary as George, it’s hard to really see these characters as anything but a set of convenient character traits derived from a hundred precedents. Farrell is a laugh as the moronoic hard man, but we really have seen enough of this character elsewhere (which proves how funny Farrell actually is in the part because he makes it work). Lynn likewise demonstrates an easy charm, but seems like he’s passing through the world of this play rather than being a natural part of it. King’s role is weak, and the actor can do nothing to make it anything more than an anchor for the plot.
Surprisingly, this play is touring to London. God knows what they’ll make of if there: perhaps a Guy Ritchie film. That would, in fact, take it back to the mothership.