Conor McPherson is one of my all-time favourite playwrights. Having made his name with plays such as The Weir, Port Authority and St Nicholas, The Night Alive in some ways harks back to his early plays such as Dublin Carol, with its working class characters eeking out an existence as best they can.
Tommy (David Cox) lives in a downstairs bedsit in Dublin. It’s an untidy place and not so much of a home as a place to crash. Tommy’s ‘work colleague’ Doc (Eoin Lynch) often ‘crashes’ there too. While he doesn’t have learning difficulties, he is undoubtedly ‘slower’ than most people and at times can be anxious. As Doc stays at his sister’s flat with her boyfriend, his presence isn’t always welcome and periodically gets ‘thrown out’. While Lynch is very funny at times, it’s his performance that elicits the most empathy from the audience.
One fateful evening, Tommy comes to the aid of Aimee (Bethan Boxall) whose ‘boyfriend’ is physically abusive with her. As a matter of course, Tommy brings her home, but Doc is sure he’s seen her somewhere before…
In the world of The Night Alive, life is something that happen to you while you’re making other plans. Following the estrangement from his wife and teenage children, Tommy’s stay at his uncle Maurice’s abode is less than ideal, as is his vocation as a “moocher”. As if Tommy doesn’t feel bad enough about his life, widower Maurice (Dan Armour) tells him he has everything in the world because his wife is still alive and children to spend time with. There’s more than a touch of envy and exasperation in Maurice’s words.
As the only woman in this all-male environment, Aimee’s presence awakens many thoughts and memories, reminding the men of what their lives look like ‘from the outside’ and the absence of a woman at home to care for. Of course, Aimee has her own ‘baggage’ in the form of Kenneth (Howie Ripley) whose brief, but memorable time on stage has devastating consequences. By letting her in to his life, Tommy also lets the malevolent side of the world in, which forces him to have a long, hard think about what he wants and what he’s ‘open’ to.
For all of this, there is ‘hope’ in the play – the possibility of a better tomorrow and that from the darkest circumstances can bring the least-expected surprises.
© Michael Davis 2018
The Night Alive runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 9th June.