Edinburgh Festival: Reviews

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The Independent Culture

Danny's Wake

Gilded Balloon, Venue 38 (0131-226 2151) to 30 Aug

TAKING A corpse to the pub for a fun night out is fraught with logistical difficulties. A companion who's stiffer than the dartboard might well fit in as a glassy-eyed drunkard, but what are you going to do if someone starts talking to him? Or if it turns out that there are girls at the bar who fancy the more reserved, rigid type?

Like an irreverent ghost from the grave, this plan has crawled out of the drunken and sleep-starved imaginations of two men sitting up all night with the coffin of their schoolmate, Danny. Death has proved a mischievous host, for it has brought together two individuals with nothing in common apart from the misconception that they once knew the man lying in the coffin behind them. School has propelled them in different directions - one towards teaching, respectable marriage, and two point four children, the other towards plumbing, divorce, and an inside-out knowledge of takeaway menus. The resulting conversation is an awkward synthesis of colliding worlds, evaporating illusions, and contradictory memories.

A conversation that isn't working could so easily be the theatrical equivalent of tidying an accountant's sock drawer, but Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney have managed instead to create a telling comedy of misunderstandings. At the start, Steen, (the plumber) blunders cheerfully along in a monologue that ranges from the idiotic to the offensive, while Sweeney perches gingerly on a stool, maintaining a silence that screams loudly about his wishing to be elsewhere. The coffin brings its own chill to the proceedings, gleaming incongruously behind them. Perhaps inevitably, it is also its presence that eventually allows the conversational ice to dissolve.

Danny's Wake is the first piece Sweeney has written for theatre, and, as winner of the Granada Media Comedy Award, it begs the question: why hasn't he done it before? He shows a keen ear for the way we trot out shorthand accounts of ourselves in meaningless conversations - accounts that ultimately conceal more than they reveal. The point with Patrick and Billy is that because they come from different classes, they don't understand and therefore don't accept each other's glib self-analyses. And so the same instinct that makes Patrick describe a large bottle of champagne as a "Jeroboam", while Billy calls it a "f****ing great big one," also allows them to rip through the facade of polite conversation and discover what's really going on in their lives.

Steen and Sweeney turn in profoundly funny performances - the latter embodying the sensitivity and naive sentimentality with which his character has rewritten his life, Steen embracing the brash humour and emotional bluntness that enables Billy to shatter Patrick's illusions. A perfect cast.