Loft Theatre, Leamington
THIS is not quite the Ireland the bright shiny travel commercials are trying to put across. Dirty, impoverished, drunk and uncultured – it’s a hard life being led by some fairly uncompromising characters. No emeralds and shamrocks here.
From the opening visit to the disgusting toilet, through an endless stream of heavy drinking, to the final breakdowns over a card game this is a tough watch.
In a strong cast there are some very strong performances – a couple well worthy of added praise – and no weak links to speak of.
As the blind, far-from-benevolent patriarch of the group Phil Reynolds is faultless. Irascible and scathing, and only happy when he’s demanding another drink, this was an excellent and fully believable performance. Huge credit must go too to Craig Shelton as the marginally more thoughtful brother trying to escape the constant barrage of booze, and to Tom O’Connor as the slightly reserved, troubling stranger whose arrival brings about such action as there is in the play. All three make the most of the rare moments when the script allows depth.
As strong as the performances are, there remains an awful lot of this script which panders to the stereotypical idea that all Irish drunks are first class wits or that other people’s drinking stories or tedious card games are entertaining to anyone else. Relocate this play to anywhere else from Stirling to Slough and what charm there is would swiftly disappear.
Meticulously staged against a set you’d really not want to spend a moment in, there are clear allusions to Faustus and to An Inspector Calls without really committing to either. The final twist, and its outcome, robs us of any chance of significant change and we’re doomed, like those caught in the very unfunny trap of poverty and alcohol, to just go round again and again.
In the end, after two hours in the company of this grim quintet of self-centred, charmless drunks we’re left with a vision of a kind of living hell which makes the eternal damnation promised to sinners far less of a threat than it otherwise might be.
Sharply-observed, brilliantly-played and directed with bags of energy this is without doubt a fine production and there is plenty to applaud. A fine company working superbly together, the responsibility for the lingering taste of stale alcohol lies elsewhere.
The Seafarer runs until March 5.
Visit www.lofttheatrecompany.com for tickets and further details.