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Paddy goes to Petra at the Jack Studio Theatre

It appears I was in the minority of people in the audience who even knew where Petra was prior to seeing Paddy Goes to Petra, though its current status as a tourist destination in Jordan wasn’t what I had in mind. Some decades ago, my father, who held staunchly evangelical Christian beliefs, had some cash stashed away in a drawer. If I were to find myself in a position where the Great Tribulation were underway, my instructions were to take the money and go to Petra. According to certain religious scholars, it is the place where Old Testament prophets predicted people would go to in order to be protected by God during the events leading up to and including the Battle of Armageddon. Well, the specific prophecies refer to Jews, and I don’t happen to be of Jewish heritage. Eventually, my father spent the Petra cash on a new PC for himself.

When Paddy goes to Petra.
When Paddy goes to Petra.

Anyway, there are no prizes for guessing who goes where in this play, and it’s not because the end was nigh. Paddy (Brendan Dunlea) – the only character listed in the production’s freesheet, so I’ll keep faith with the production and not reveal anyone else by name – is on holiday with his wife. Nothing remarkable about that: it’s not as if it’s 2020 anymore, even if the story comes across as a series of events that transpired pre-pandemic. It’s a gloriously detailed tale, however, and raises a hearty laugh from the audience when a solution to the couple’s lack of bedroom activity is suggested, and carried out, by the wife.

Like all the best one-person narratives, a number of characters are voiced, each distinct from one another, convincingly. Having not been before, Paddy becomes fascinated by what he finds, not only in and around Petra, but about himself. Without giving too much away, it seems that he’s inadvertently embarked on a journey of self-discovery, and the results are refreshingly positive, at least for him. Dunlea’s Paddy has decent stage presence: he also oozes Irish charm.

Particularly in the first half, the soundscape that accompanies the monologue is indicative of a busy and bustling Petra. The show asserts there’s a lot of uniqueness in terms of architecture and history, whilst the contemporary tourist traps are so compelling that even the perceptive Paddy finds himself parting with more money than he thought he would. A subplot about losing his son, who was taken by his own hand, reveals the extensive impact of loss and bereavement. I was disheartened to discover, through this story, that suicide by young men is as much of a problem in Ireland as it is in Britain.

But I was also encouraged by the lines of communication that Paddy kept open, and having made his excuses to have some time by himself, I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to see someone on stage take their phone out so often during a show. I suspect he might well have texted or used WhatsApp – if anything mobile calls when abroad are potentially very expensive – but as watching someone type doesn’t make for good theatre, the audience hears one side of audio phone conversations instead. It is, of course, possible to project direct messages, emails and so on (the likes of Dear Evan Hansen, and more recently, Eureka Day, are excellent examples) but it would disrupt the flow of the monologue here.

Considering the length of the play as a whole, the amount of time spent discussing what happened after Paddy returned to his native Ireland is substantial. This, however, is magnificent, with a clear follow-up storyline that doesn’t leave the audience wondering what went on afterwards. The play is as amusing as it is poignant, deftly tackling some difficult issues with relatable tenacity and stoicism.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Rural Ireland meets the Middle East in a plot that follows middle aged farmer Paddy, whose lust for life has long vanished. A trip to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan encourages him to feel a fresh wonder for the world, develop new friendships and begin an exciting love affair…with himself.

Pretending to lose his passport so he can stay longer in Petra, Paddy begins a journey of recovery and renewed enthusiasm for living. How long until responsibilities of old take hold of him again, however? A play about survival, strength and carrying on.
Paddy goes to Petra
Creative Team:
Written and directed by Áine Ryan
Music by Cáit Ní Riain & Eyal Arad
Set Design Constance Comporat
Lighting Design Alex Forey
Produced by Studio Perform Theatre

Cast:
Brendan Dunlea
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2022 at 7.30 pm Running time: Seventy minutes, no interval
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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