Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Theatre review: Coolatully

A certain bleakness seems to be a good way to catch the attention of the Papatango judges, a competition whose winners often delve into dark and depressing places. This year's winner is Fiona Doyle, whose Coolatully sees a full-on exodus from rural Ireland as opportunities for young people dry up. Where America was once the dream destination, following the collapse of the Celtic Tiger Australia and New Zealand are where people are now pinning their hopes, and Eilish (Yolanda Kettle) has already secured a nursing job in Sydney, departing in six months. She wants her on/off boyfriend Kilian (Kerr Logan) to join her, but he feels he still has responsibilities in Coolatully: After his brother's death the year before, his mother has all but withdrawn to her bed, and Kilian now runs her pub despite the fact that the're barely enough people left in the village to provide any customers.

Meanwhile his friend Paudie (Charlie de Bromhead) is also overqualified, unemployed and hopeful of a new life in Australia, but a few months spent in prison could well scupper his chances of a visa.

Doyle's play is a simple one, and perhaps a bit of an odd choice for a competition whose past winners have often had very distinct voices and a notable kind of ambition - there's something bordering on the generic about Coolatully. It's well-written but, especially in a venue that's unearthed a lot of forgotten Irish plays on the same stage, it feels like I've seen it before, in plays written 100 years ago. Perhaps this is the point, that the current mass exodus mirrors the one in the 19th century, but I would have liked a bit more of a twist on the idea - beyond the occasional beeping mobile phone, there's little to distinguish this from its predecessors.

Structurally, too, the piece is frustrating: Eric Richard puts in a strong performance as Jimmy, the elderly friend Kilian checks in on daily, but the existence of a vulnerable character who keeps a large amount of cash under the floorboards seems to signpost where the story's going pretty clearly. In general the performances have little to fault them, Logan having the handsome, brooding, flawed hero down pat, Kilian having lost enthusiasm for life to such an extent that he's even left the hurling team, whose star he once was. The fact that he strips to his pants and socks in one scene doesn't hurt (he's covered in bruises - I wonder if he got those rehearsing for this, or getting flung around the ball pit in Teh Internet Is Serious Business, which he's only just finished.)

Meanwhile Kettle's Eilish has a strength the men around her seem to lack, and together with de Bromhead's endlessly optimistic, terrible-joke-cracking Paudy, stops Coolatully from descending into outright misery porn. David Mercatali gives the play as good a production as it could hope for, on Max Dorey's clever set that evokes a number of different locations in the small space. But there's no denying that, while individual scenes have power, the play as a whole struggles to be memorable.

Coolatully by Fiona Doyle is booking until the 22nd of November at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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