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The Night Alive by Conor McPherson at Jack Studio Theatre | Review

The Night Alive
The Night Alive

At surface level, there are some seriously stereotyped characters in The Night Alive. Maurice (Dan Armour), the older man, trying to dispense sound advice to people (the phrase ‘casting pearls before swine’ from the King James Bible comes to mind). There’s Tommy (David Cox) the – somewhat – wayward nephew, generous to a fault. There Tommy’s good friend Doc (Eoin Lynch), who can’t seem to function without Tommy’s companionship (Lennie in Of Mice and Men comes to mind). There’s Aimee (Bethan Boxall), a prostitute, or as Maurice insists on calling her, “a whore”, and a couple of brief but impactful appearances from her ex-partner Kenneth (Howie Ripley).

Beneath the stereotypes, however, are intriguing life stories, even if central character Tommy’s life would appear to be much the same by the end of the play as it was when it started. But back to the beginning. As I understand it, Tommy was being his magnanimous self in coming to the aid of Aimee – the first thing that happens is that she is being ushered into Tommy’s ‘flat’, which is really the bit of Maurice’s house that he lets Tommy live in. She appears to have sustained an injury as a result of physical violence, though presumably because of her vocation she would rather not be taken to hospital. Already there is a subliminal social commentary going on about the public authorities and why it is that certain citizens within a society would rather have nothing to do with them.

Moral dilemmas, at least for me, cropped up within minutes. As the musical Wicked puts it, no good deed goes unpunished. Further, Tommy has a way of extracting the sole euro coin (the play is set in Dublin) contained in the coin-operated energy meter, in order that it can be re-inserted through the slot. Hardly one of the salient points of the play. That said, although morally dubious, perhaps a greater ethical consideration is the billions of euros of profit the energy companies in Ireland rake in every year, while some of their customers are having to choose between heating and eating.

This is the beauty of multi-layered plays that skilfully don’t overload the audience’s senses. The narrative is complex (this should be a set text for English literature in schools), but not so much as to be confusing. It also goes totally against the grain of many classical dramas – and some contemporary ones too – in portraying the lives of people who couldn’t be any further removed from high society if they tried. This is not to say they lack intellectual capability – Doc, even though it’s a nickname and not an indication of designatory letters after his full name, goes into detail about black holes in a late scene, for instance.

The production doesn’t, however, make clear quite how much time is supposed to have passed from the end of one scene and the beginning of another: from blackout to lights up, has the story jumped by some hours, a couple of days, three weeks, more? The second half is substantially more riveting than the first, as the pace was quickened and the production as a whole became something incredibly watchable. But then, the very final scene seemed a tad superfluous, and I couldn’t help thinking how much more poignant the production could have been had it finished a few minutes earlier.

Some mild humour permeates the show, and the soothing scene change music contrasted well with the increasingly gritty and quirky storyline. A contemplative and challenging piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

You only get a few goes. At life. You don’t get endless goes. Two, three goes maybe. When you hit the right groove you’ll click right in there…this is it.
Tommy is not a bad man, he’s getting by. Renting a run-down room in his Uncle Maurice’s house, just about keeping his ex-wife and kids at arm’s length and rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to another with his pal Doc.

Then one day he comes to the aid of Aimee, who’s not had it easy herself, struggling through life the only way she knows how. Their past won’t let go easily. But together there’s a glimmer of hope they could make something more of their lives. Something extraordinary. Perhaps. The Night Alive deftly mines the humanity to be found in the most unlikely of situations.

The Creative Team |
Playwright | Conor McPherson
Director | Dan Armour
Set Design | Dave Jones
Costume Design | Pauline Armour Sound Design | Tom Dignum
Producer | First Knight Theatre

The Cast
Tommy – David Cox
Aimee – Bethan Boxall
Doc – Eoin Lynch
Maurice – Dan Armour
Kenneth – Howie Ripley

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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