Venue: Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Dates: 13 July to 4 August.
Writer: Phillip McMahon
There’s nothing quite like a family funeral for clearing the air and muddying the waters. In Phillip McMahon’s unflinching, darkly humorous play, three brothers gather under the same roof for the first time in many years for their mother’s wake. They did not ask to be here and would clearly prefer to be anywhere rather than back home in the house which has witnessed so much unhappiness and domestic strife .
Nerves jangle in time to Conor Mitchell’s edgy score and, under Rachel O’Riordan’s fearless, disciplined direction, the risk of potentially ruinous fraternal conflict crackles from the off.
Softly spoken golden boy and former seminarian Michael long ago sought refuge from his late father’s tyrannical disapproval in the gay underbelly of London. Billy Carter has him sweaty and on edge, shifting from one foot to the other, as he tries to make polite conversation with his gauche younger brother Ray (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and his sparky pregnant partner Aoife, who once had eyes only for Michael.
Their oldest brother Brian (Declan Conlon), still handsome and wild, is known locally as a drunk and a troublemaker. His foul-mouthed, flirty wife Martina, appears little better. What is it that keeps them together? Like Ray, who stayed at home and struggled to run the barber’s shop at the front of the house, the deeply damaged Brian is not yet ready to bid farewell to a much loved mother.
Holed up together after years apart, the brothers scarcely know one another, yet unpleasant truths and memories hover around them. Answers or solutions are thin on the ground. This painful, powerfully played reunion may clear the air of difficult unanswered questions but the muddy waters of their shared past will remain forever rank and stinking.
Colin Richmond’s drab living room set cleverly suggests the unfolding of an old fashioned family drama, but this multi-layered, acutely observed story of faith, love, sexuality and ‘home’ is anything but.
The play offers itself as a challenging metaphor for modern-day Ireland, a country where the exposure of sickening, long-hidden secrets and religious hypocrisy has prompted seismic social and political change in gender equality, same-sex marriage and abortion law reform.
The evergreen Des Nealon brings knowing worldly wisdom to the role of the elderly parish priest Fr. Seamus. Kathy Rose O’Brien and Aislin McGuckin endow the complex female roles with intriguing resonance, while, in a slightly over-extended dénouement, Sean O’Callaghan reduces the towering figure of Fr. Aidan Cleary to yet another sad, sorry victim of circumstance, his opportunity for longed-for redemption and reconciliation coming too late in the day.
This is an extended version of the review which was published in The Stage on 18 July 2018