Theatre review: The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse, London
Thursday 20 June 2013
The summer belongs to Conor McPherson at the Donmar Warehouse. Hard on the heels of Josie Rourke's pitch-perfect revival of his most acclaimed play The Weir, the Irish dramatist now directs this beautifully-acted world premiere of his latest piece, The Night Alive.
Its protagonist, Tommy (magnificent Ciaran Hinds) is a fifty-something chancer, a well-built man who has gone to seed and is every bit as shambolic as the detritus-strewn, run-down bed-sit he rents from his uncle in an Edwardian Dublin house.
Estranged from his wife and children (whom he staves off via mobile phone calls and unkept promises), Tommy scrapes by on the margins with his van and menial shifting work, dreaming up harebrained, get-rich-quick schemes with his dopey, even more hapless side-kick Doc (the splendidly funny and sweet-natured Michael McElhatton).
The play opens with a gesture of charity as he offers shelter to a bloodied young woman, Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne) whom he has rescued from assault by her ex-boyfriend. She stays to hide and to convalesce, giving Tommy manual relief (she's on the game in the outside world) in lieu of rent and in a blundering, comically ramshackle, semi-ignominious way, there's a sense that fate is proferring a fresh chance to these seeming no-hopers.
But then Aimee's desperate past catches up with all of them in the shape of Brian Gleeson's prissy but deeply disturbed and disturbing Kenneth and it looks as though Tommy's initial act of compassion will be a salient case of no good deed going severely unpunished.
McPherson is a master at suggesting the loneliness and the unappeasable demons of shame and despair that stalk our lives under the bantering, drink-fuelled conviviality and at intimating the human hunger for – and dread of – the numinous.
These gifts are richly apparent again here. Jim Norton brilliantly captures both the interfering uncle's triumphantly censorious disappointment at Tommy whom he reared as his own child and the terminal bleakness of widower, weaving around drunk at four in the afternoon after an anniversary service for his wife was attended by only eight people.
A gentle giant emitting a constant patter of quiet-voiced, propitiatory blarney, Hinds affectingly hints at a thwarted genuine grace and decency in Tommy, the compulsive scapegrace. But the play relies too much on small recuperative jumps in time that have the effect of making you wonder whether you have partly imagined the extent of the violent horror and darkness at its core.
The ending too (is it real or a fantasy?) seems bet-hedging rather than ambiguous. A fine evening but not top-flight McPherson.
To 27 July; 0844 871 7624
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow
- 4 Richard Dawkins says 'date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse' on Twitter
- 5 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
'Phallic symbols' found hidden in famous Pre-Raphaelite painting 'Isabella' by John Everett Millais
Top Gear Burma episode breached Ofcom rules over Jeremy Clarkson's racial slur
Freddie Prinze Jr on 24: 'Kiefer Sutherland was the most unprofessional dude in the world – I hated every moment of it'
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer unveiled at Comic-Con
How did our legends really begin?
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >