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Stags at the Network Theatre, Waterloo | Review

There’s some humour in Stags which acts as comic relief from the heavy subject matter. “Are you where you want to be?” Tony (Blake Kubena) asks his brother Conn (James Finnegan). “You sound like a commercial,” comes the rebuttal. Tony has avoided the family home for some years, but a sudden change in circumstances have left him with little choice. His father, known only as Da (Tim Molyneux) gets more than a word in edgeways despite having passed on, though quite how would be giving too much away, and when Conn finally shows up, there’s one of those deep and meaningful conversations to be had.

Stags at the Network TheatreThis isn’t one of those plays where everything is tickety-boo before a sudden Very Critical Incident occurs, throwing everything into disarray. Here, everything is already, literally and figuratively, a mess: a widescreen television is broken, for instance, which could be, if members of the audience wished to infer it, a metaphor for either or both brothers not being able to see the world clearly.

Perhaps inevitably, childhood memories keep seeping into the conversation. Tony’s choice of occupation as a teacher comes in for some ridicule (he wears a businessman’s suit but doesn’t have a businessman’s salary), with the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that Tony looks down on his father and brother, binman and ex-convict respectively. Da had apparently left the house to Conn, leaving Tony a “rent boy” for the foreseeable future (an interesting use of that term, to say the least).

It has, also perhaps inevitably, explosive moments, such is the way of family talk between siblings who were never the best of friends. The show is steadily paced, with pauses and silences that wouldn’t have worked so well in an online production. Quite a lot of ground is covered, but the production never felt rushed, touching a wide range of matters, from what happened to their mother to what prison was really like for Conn. The idea of the absent mother allows the narrative to explore what being raised by a single father was like, especially one who wasn’t afraid to instil discipline in ways that may raise eyebrows in this day and age.

Not everything is tidily resolved by the end, though it is slightly surprising that it took as long as it did for matters to become aggressive and confrontational between the brothers – then again, cranking up the intensity too early in a play might leave it with nowhere to go. The ending feels as though there’s an entire second half that could be added to the story but, as ever, it’s better to leave the audience wanting more than to outstay one’s welcome. It could be pacier, to go with the no-nonsense, down-to-business attitude of the characters, but otherwise, this is a gritty portrait of working-class life – and death.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

With his father dead in his armchair, Tony comes home to confront his brother and deal with the mess he’s created. In a working-class Dublin home, Tony is forced to revisit memories of trauma that are as disturbing as they are unreliable, as their absent mother remains a telling influence in this old house and the men she left behind. In this pressure-cooker situation, Tony first confronts the memories of his father before he confronts the present danger that is his brother, whose return home from a lengthy prison sentence has created a family reunion, suited to their history.

Network Theatre, Waterloo.
Dates: 17th May – 22nd May.
Time: 8pm.
www.networktheatre.org
https://www.offmainstage.com/

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