Review by BRIAN CAELLEIGHJune 26, 2019 certified reviewer
What I liked
What is it about Irish storytelling that moves us so? From O’Neill to Joyce to McDonagh to McPherson, Irish playwrights often seem to capture a nostalgic quality, even to those who have never lived in the place. David McElwee’s story seems to draw inspiration from all those Irish greats, setting his story in (where else?) a pub in a small town setting near/in Donegal (though this isn’t always obvious from the accents but more on that later) where the bar is never clean and the only things on offer are whiskey or beer and not much in the way of selection on either. It reminds me of stories my grandfather told me of growing up outside of Belfast, and of the places his father and brother disappeared fighting in/for. Riddled with that dark Irish wit that drips with both sincerity and depression and featuring an ensemble of well developed and interesting characters, the twist and turns of the story and the strength of the actors involved really do transport one to the dingy, forgotten pub off the beaten path that seems to be the hallmark of many great Irish playwrights. I appreciate the way McElwee really seemed to get the dialect- our patter and tone and general syntactical idiosyncrasies that make our language so interesting onstage. And I didn’t mark a single weak performance in the ensemble. Props to the whole cast and crew on this one- it was a pleasure.
What I didn't like
The front half of the show is generously peppered with wit and humour, but the second half of it goes into long, dramatic monologues that really grind the show to a halt. Shorter monologues with the occasional wry comment would help break this up and make the pacing a little more consistent. Accents were from all over the country (sometimes the actors would themselves be traveling mid-scene), and there were some inconsistent performances (though as a native, I may be a bit more nit-picky on the topic than most). That said, for the most part they weren’t bad enough to break the immersion save one or two moments. The opening speech from actor Brennan Murray, used to deliver exposition and set the scene seemed somewhat out of place. Why couldn’t these character introductions be given in the dialogue? At 90 minutes this is nearly a full length play; surely there must be some way of setting the scene, between director’s notes, visual cues, and dialogue, that could have been employed here. Perhaps this is dialogue that had to be cut for time and visual cues that had to be scrapped for space- problems that would be solved by a more fully realised production.
My overall impression
A strong Fringe entry by playwright David McElwee, with excellent performances and a moving story. Add this to your “must see” list if you can find tickets and time.