Writer: Erica Murray
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
The award winning Co. Limerick-born writer Erica Murray has had an auspicious start to her career. She recently received a Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme bursary award and, last year, was selected for the New Playwrights Programme at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, where she is currently artist-in-residence.
Her second play All Mod Cons was developed at the Lyric and it is, therefore, unsurprising that its premiere should be staged in the theatre’s studio space. What is surprising, however, is that, with such an expert team in attendance, the finished piece attempts to cram in too much content and, as a result, feels disappointingly overworked and inconclusive.
A maelstrom of significant issues compete fleetingly with one another: sibling relationships, family strife, childhood influences, transgender identity, sexual violence, international cultural divides, social mores, the meaning of ‘home’. They swirl around the reunion of a mismatched brother and sister, who have lived very different lives in different countries for almost a decade.
Immature, volatile Gary is a home bird, dominated by his mother and still, in the aftermath of her death, trying desperately to please her. Laddish and lacking in confidence, Michael Shea’s portrayal prompts concern for this young man’s future physical and mental well being.
Self-assured, sophisticated Jean is another matter altogether. She has returned to Belfast from Berlin for the funeral. Does she intend to stay? The question is never answered nor the motivation explained, though subsequent events imply that, for no particular reason, she does.
Thoughtfully played by Mariah Louca, Jean used to be John, a life-changing situation that is only cursorily examined, in spite of being flagged as one of the play’s main themes.
After a brief, left-of-field conversation – and the revelation of a biscuit tin filled with cash – the two unwisely decide to buy a house together. Enter Gary’s old friend Ian, a struggling estate agent, similarly under his mother’s thumb for an unpleasant reason which will surface late on.
In his professional capacity, Ian is showing prim, hard-to-please Laura (Sophie Robinson) around the same properties. This two-dimensional character feels a tad surplus to requirements, as the dramatic potential of the trio’s crossing paths never quite materialises.
The four-strong cast respond willingly to Ronan Phelan’s pacey direction. He makes effective use of Katie Richardson’s funky, high volume soundtrack to switch between scenes, while employing unnecessarily helpful graphics to label the changing locations inside Diana Ennis’s double sided set.
Chris McCurry crafts an unsettling presence as the emotionally unstable Ian, bringing queasy humour and suppressed, sweaty energy to a temptingly meaty role. His dangling storyline alone would make the basis for a satisfying play, as would several of the others, which the writer courageously sets out to examine in a single swipe.
Runs until 9 June 2019