A Night In November, Trafalgar Studios, London

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The Independent Culture

As an Anglo-American female Jew who regards all sports with boredom or distaste, I am not, as its creators and supporters might say, the "right " audience for a play about Irish football. But am I not a test case? I have, after all, been moved to wild laughter or tearful anguish by plays whose subjects were as alien.

The cast is half the size of that of author Marie Jones's hit two-hander, Stones in His Pockets. Kenneth is a Protestant dole-clerk in Belfast, getting his few kicks by one-upping his Catholic boss and making Catholic relief applicants jump through hoops.

But when, at a football match with Ireland, the home side screams death threats at "filthy Fenian scum", he is horrified to realise that their hatred is an extreme form of his own feelings. Kenneth turns against his politely anti-Catholic wife and neighbours, and not only befriends " Pope-lovers" but delights in their free-and-easy ways, even flying to New York to root for the Republic in the World Cup.

It's a scenario that may sound touching in summary, but Jones's treatment of it is superficial and mechanically "heartwarming". Wanting to make Kenneth an Everyman, she makes him dull – he is overexplicit and given to cliché, fretting that he stands out "like a sore thumb" or thrilled that New York is "like a film set". In his revulsion from other Protestants, he seems less a man in an existential crisis than an indignant adolescent, but without an adolescent's preoccupation.

Kenneth complains that his lower-middle-class life is arid and false: his fiercely respectable wife never reads the books she buys to match their curtains, and their "friends" are shallow and prim.

But there's never a mention of sex, only of Kenneth's yearning for the chance to get drunk, shout, and hug someone. And Jones never shows us whether this booze-fuelled friendship is as firm the next day, or that alcohol, like respectabililty, is a way of escaping life.

Patrick Kielty's lightweight performance does not lift Kenneth above the very ordinary man Jones has written, and, while his routine, lifeless impressions may be true to the best Kenneth could do, they just sound inept.

Ian McElhinney's production is made even less appealing by a set of a few grubby tiers and a screen on which are such fascinating stills as an Aer Lingus plane and a P45 – a dispiriting backdrop for preaching to the converted.

Click here for A Night In November website

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