Theatre RED ROSES AND PETROL Tricycle Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
Over from suburban Dublin wafts a piquant theatrical voice in the form of journalist Joseph O'Connor, whose first play is a delightfully scathing family drama, complete with satirical spikes and a robust black humour. Imagine O'Casey on speed and you begin to approach the craggy contours of his dramatic imagination. In a series of short, sassy scenes, O'Connor wittily establishes the comic cut and thrust of the self-abusing Doyle family when they gather for their father Enda's cremation. As they pick each other to pieces, you get only the merest hint that their missiles are a shield against the pain of loneliness.

O'Connor has a brilliant ear for the one-liner that speaks volumes. In the capable hands of Dublin's Pigsback Theatre, his writing is rich in lively detail, tumbling out with a constant veering and lurching of tone. Not only does he dig out the simmering jealousies and buried grievances of the dysfunctional Doyles, he frames them in blackly comic situations that teeter on the brink of farce. When motor-mouthed Johnny snorts up his father's ashes instead of his sister's cocaine, the playwright's kinked universe clicks into sharp focus.

But just when the play threatens to collapse under the burden of O'Connor's pyrotechnics, the drama assumes a more reflective mode. In front of a series of home videos, Enda's family struggles with his emotional legacy. ("Love", says his wife, Moya, "is when you start to think the other person is real"). Though O'Connor proves he can be sympathetic and scornful with equal ease, his final note is quietly affirmative.

At one level this is a study in familial heartache. At another, it is about its literary parents. The play is crammed with references to Ireland's literary heritage and, although there is a clear blood line to Synge, Yeats, Heaney et al, O'Connor has no truck with the nostalgic platitudes of a tradition ripped out of context. Despite Enda's attempts as a poet and his love of fine language, he could neither express his tender feelings for his wife nor face the slightest hint of family trauma. Literature was simply a tool for blotting out the truth.

There is a certain contrived flavour to the plotting that would have mattered more if the play were not so funny. O'Connor hints at depths he never quite sounds, and at times struggles to maintain dramatic impetus. Nonetheless, Jim Culleton's finely tuned production banishes most such cavils in an atmosphere where the playful and the macabre form a striking mix with the satirical. On a tilted front-room set, his talented cast grasp the play's abrupt seesaw of emotions with relish. Paul Hickey exudes flashes of caustic humour as Johnny, while Anne Kent's Moya achieves a certain tousled lyricism in what, at its best, is a long night's journey into day of perturbing proportions.

n To 5 Aug. Booking: 0171-328 1000