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Flights by John O’Donovan at Omnibus Theatre | Review

Flights - Photo credit Ste Murray
Flights – Photo credit Ste Murray

Some of the themes explored in Flights are nothing new to anyone who has been sufficiently exposed to the canon of Irish theatre – there’s some talk of getting away from Ireland. Barry (Colin Campbell) has begun making plans for a move with his long-term girlfriend to London, which Pa (Rhys Dunlop) happily supports.

Cusack (Conor Madden), however, reveals some information which, although widely known amongst their peer group, catches Barry unawares. There are, of course, the modern world being what it is, opportunities for all of them to leave home if they wanted to. But this ends up a little bit like watching a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters – the trio in that play shall never get to Moscow, and these lads shall never get to London.

Or will they? The narrative is as broad as it is deep, and in all the various reflections expressed both in dialogue and through each character’s long addresses directly to the audience, quite where they end up – geographically, financially, psychologically or otherwise – doesn’t seem to be as important as the journey of life itself. While there are some lighter moments, these soon give way to rather melancholy thoughts, not least because the whole reason why the trio have gathered is the same one that they gather each year: to celebrate the life of their friend, Liam, who died at the age of seventeen.

Although set in the Irish countryside, the entire show is set in one room, such that there is a lot of exposition – the men talk, work their way through copious amounts of alcohol, play darts and occasionally snort substances. Barry’s girlfriend has a considerably higher amount of disposable income than he does, while the others aren’t exactly living the high life. The play surreptitiously asserts that it is the last major international recession, which hit Ireland hard, that is at least partly to blame for the challenges the country and its inhabitants still face. But it also does well to point out, just as subtly, that the economy isn’t the sole reason why these men are in the position they are in.

Character development is certainly evident. There is laddish conduct that still exists between them (they have, after all, been friends since childhood) and one wonders, given the setting and the context, whether that will ever go away so long as they continue to meet up. The steady pace of the show, however, meant that it felt rather longer than its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Despite a rake in the venue, the performance space is at floor level, which meant sightlines were not always clear when the characters were either sat or lying down.

Convincingly, it was not always possible to tell whether an outburst of emotion was genuine, or just the alcohol and/or the drugs talking. Depressingly, emigration isn’t the only method of escape considered – and as someone who just so happens to have experienced what it is to want to be taken by one’s own hand, things must be desperate indeed for these characters to even be thinking about it. These are raw, hurting, vulnerable people looking for ways to live better – and these are not the typical ‘first world problems’ certain other plays like to focus on.

A slow burner, perhaps befitting the pace of lifestyle these rural lads are experiencing, it’s a contemplative show, and one with an important reminder that nobody’s story is too insignificant that it is unworthy to be heard.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

On a dark and stormy night, Barry, Cusack and Pa gather again for the anniversary of their childhood friend Liam – killed in a road accident when they were seventeen.

Expecting a crowd and tearing into the cans, three men slowly realise they’re the only ones coming. Caught in the wake of their lingering grief, they must confront their receding youth, their uncertain futures, and the ghost that has held them together.

Award-winning writer John O’Donovan returns to rural Ireland for this haunting, hilarious new play about bereavement, brotherhood and breaking away from your past.

Flights
Omnibus Theatre
11 – 29 Feb 2020
https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/

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