The MAC, Belfast
Producer: Prime Cut Productions
Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful
Writer: John Patrick Higgins
Director: Rhiann Jeffrey
Performer: Charlie Bonner
Tinderbox and Prime Cut’s Edgefest season continues its exploration of mental illness, treading carefully but courageously into a complex condition, which is responsible for so much loss of life across the social spectrum.
It is difficult to imagine that John Patrick Higgins’s Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful started out as a comedy. It has an optimistic title and an affable central character whose its stock in trade is a dangerously dark, tongue in cheek sense of humour, particularly when it comes to analysing his nihilistic view of life – his own life. But the title is deliberately cryptic and incomplete.
On the surface, likeable, easy-going Malachy is the original good bloke, a bit disorganised, a bit lacking in ambition, a bit out of shape, a bit unlucky when it comes to women. This day dawns much like any other and therein lies the riddle of the title, as it becomes clear that this is, indeed, another day when he wakes up hopeful … of dying. The fact that he regularly proves himself incapable of ending it all only adds to his mounting desperation, despair and self-hatred.
Charlie Bonner brings a dishevelled sweetness to his portrayal of a middle-aged man whose life is passing him by. Quite simply, he has had enough; he just wants it to be over. The achievement of his engaging portrayal is that the audience does not want Malachy to go but, in willing him to stay, we are not serving him well.
The script cuts to the quick of his inner torment, butt joining the positive to the negative. Belly laughs are abruptly halted by shocking throwaway lines or descriptions; the reveal of the terrible act which halted his brief encounter with happiness comes from left of field, in a single short statement of fact, like a hammer blow.
However, in making the transition from comedy to a more sombre, more considered piece there remain sections of the script which feel overwritten, over embellished. The writer’s facility with words is beyond doubt. It’s just that, here and there, at present, there are too many of them, sometimes clouding the carefully planned narrative.
Designer Ciaran Bagnall, working across a contrasting double bill, has presented director Rhiann Jeffrey with a high concept set, comprising massive up-lit metallic back panels, with water dripping from above into a stainless steel pool. Whatever about Jeffrey and water (her acclaimed professional directing début, Mydidae, was set in a bathroom and plunged two naked actors into a bath), her daring theatrical imagination here crafts a subtle visual metaphor: a man intent on drowning his sorrows while his spirit slowly erodes, like water dripping on a stone.
The final moments make for a hard watch. Through the gathering gloom, it is possible to discern distant echoes of a scene from Waiting for Godot:
ESTRAGON: Why don’t we hang ourselves?
VLADIMIR: With what?
ESTRAGON: You haven’t got a bit of rope?
ESTRAGON: Then we can’t.
Unlike Beckett’s tramps, Malachy does have the means. It’s in his hand. His continuing punishment is that he is unable to put it to good use.
East Belfast Boy
Writer: Fintan Brady
Director: Emma Jordan
Performer: Ryan McParland
It begins with a deafening explosion, a simultaneous outburst of pulsating sound, unleashed rage and drug induced slabbering.
Ryan McParland’s Davy bounces onstage from out of nowhere, his contorted face and garbled thoughts finding incoherent expression in a frenetic display of dance and a verbal assault that grabs his watchers by the throat and holds them in a vice-like grip for the next hour.
Davy and others like him can found hanging out on street corners every day of the week. Scowling, snarling and alientated, he’s not a pretty sight. Not likeable. He is perceived by more privileged fellow citizens as threatening, dodgy, dangerous, to be avoided. But he knows his place and he loves his music. These are his streets, his patch, his present and his future. He’s an east Belfast boy and proud of it.
Initially, his demeanour speaks of anything but pride or positivity, but the power behind Fintan Brady’s coruscating script emerges from the authenticity of its source and the surprising truths it uncovers.
The piece was originally created in 2015 by Brady’s Partisan Productions in a collaboration involving young men from Belfast’s Beersbridge and Newtownards Roads, areas with high levels of youth unemployment and social deprivation, where threats and temptations are rife and young people have to grow up fast and tough.
The outstanding element of this thrilling production is Prime Cut’s fruitful continuation of the collaborative process. Emma Jordan, directing with her usual unflinching and meticulous eye for detail, has assembled an impressive creative team, each of whom has made a significant individual contribution to the collective whole.
During a half-hour interval, Bagnall’s pool setting is boarded over to create a metal-walled dance floor, which soaks up Sarah Jane Shiels’s moody lighting. DJ Phil Kieran has mixed an incessantly pounding techno soundscape, which perfectly tees up Oona Doherty’s trademark gritty choreography, brilliantly performed by McParland.
In amongst the high octane cacophony, the confusion, alienation and angst rushing through Davy’s addled brain, unexpected revelations seep out. It transpires that his father left home years ago, that he loves his granny, that he has been in a relationship with the same girl for six years, that sometimes they cheat on each other, that they have a little daughter, whose birth was the best thing that happened to him. A moment of wonder shines through when this hard lad beholds his newborn child and realises that he has made this beautiful thing.
The dense onslaught of Belfast vernacular rhymes to the persistent beat of the music as Davy spits out his message to the world. Don’t be quick to judge. Look beyond what you see. Question the motivation. Reach out a hand. Walk in Davy’s shoes.