Conor McPherson is turning out to be one of my favourite playwrights. His play, The Weir, which was the last offering at The Donmar was exemplary, so it was with excited anticipation that we headed off to that same space to see his latest offering. This time he is the Director and, although The Night Alive isn’t as wonderful a play as The Weir, it is pretty damned good.
Soutra Gilmour’s atmospheric set is a shabby bedsit belonging to an equally shabby Tommy (Ciaran Hinds). Tommy, a fifty something who has really let himself go, is separated from his wife and children and rents the room off his Uncle Maurice (Jim Norton). Maurice owns the whole house, lives upstairs and continually frets about Tommy allowing “guests” to stay in his room. Beneath his grumpy veneer Maurice obviously cares deeply for Tommy, who in turn often hides his caring nature, especially when bickering with his mate, Doc (Michael McElhatton). Tommy earns a crust or two by doing odd jobs in his, one assumes, white van, aided and abetted by Doc. Doc has mild learning difficulties and seems very reliant on his relationship with Tommy, so much so that he’s rather put out when a female is added to the mix in the shape of Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne). Tommy is her knight in shining armour, having found her bleeding and battered in the street following a beating from her boyfriend, Kenneth (Brian Gleeson). He brings her back to his room to recuperate and offers her tea, sympathy and a dog biscuit (Tommy’s idea of a rich tea is a Bonio taken from the box). She in turn offers him physical comfort beneath the sheets. Is she a prostitute? Probably, although this, like so many other things about this play isn’t clear. What is obvious is that Tommy and Aimee forge a very close, albeit strange, friendship, him even professing his love for her at one point. As in The Weir, a woman has once again thrown the lives of lonely single men into disarray. The play is wonderfully comic with Conor PcPherson’s lyrical writing at full tilt, but there is a sinister undertone. It’s not a relaxing atmosphere in this Dublin house and the arrival of Aimee’s demented boyfriend, or is it ex, makes us realize why. The following violence is so real it takes the breath away. and is in such sharp contrast to the gorgeous moment when the three damaged dependents forget their troubles for a moment and dance to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. A glorious piece of theatre.
The whole cast is superb. Ciaran Hinds, resplendent in hideous long, lank black wig, allows us to glimpse a decent bloke beneath the stained t-shirt and laconic wit. Michael McElhatton has us all rooting for his sweet natured, sandwich short of a picnic Doc, especially when we realize he will become Aimee’s boyfriend’s next victim. Jim Norton is magnificent throughout, but especially so when he gives a master class in drunk acting and Caolifhionn (how on earth does one pronounce that) Dunne is definitely one to watch. Brian Gleeson, too, makes the blood run cold, so believable is his deeply disturbed Kenneth.
The ending is rather odd and surprising but what’s gone before, the humour, pathos, drama and choice of music, all parceled up in a thoroughly entertaining 105 minutes, more than makes up for it. So much so that I tried, unsuccessfully, to book and see it a second time.