Review: The House That Jack Filled

Project Arts Centre – Cube

MCNALLY’S HOTEL by the Sea is the setting for Finegan Kruckemeyer’s latest collaboration with Theatre Lovett. It is a “cosy, poky, falling-downy” type of place, but its owner Jack wouldn’t have it any other way. Built by his parents beside a “river as big as the sea”, it is his home, as well as his livelihood: or, as his father put it before he passed away, the hotel is in Jack’s blood.

But when the river dries up, so does the trickle of visitors who keep McNally’s going, and Jack is forced to reinvent himself as well as his hotel. What Kruckemeyer sets up as a Fawlty Towers-style farce is slowly revealed to have something more serious at stake.

Kruckemeyer’s script is joyfully barmy, full of Edward Lear-like nonsenses that follow language and logic down rabbit holes, which may or may not connect coherently to the greater whole. Indeed, the chaos of McNally’s and Jack’s invaded mind is occasionally difficult to follow. A more structured use of voiceover (provided by the ice-creamy voice of Andrea Ainsworth) would have made the narrative divergences and cul-de-sacs less misleading.

Niamh Lunny’s set is an oasis of dilapidated charm: a cornucopia of surprise and wonder, where hidey-holes reveal new characters, lampshades have emotional reactions, and doorways can thwart you again and again.

Director Muireann Ahern capitalises on the physical images evoked in Kruckemeyer’s script, although the irrepressible Louis Lovett brings much more than slapstick clowning to his performance. He even produces his own sound effects (with the help of sound designer Carl Kennedy).

Lovett plays the eponymous hero, hotelier and host, but he also stars as all the guests, no mean feat considering the tics and freakish traits that define them. There are the Lionel O’Brienses, Senior and Junior; Norma and Dorma, Italian opera-singer twins; a moustachioed Spaniard and his two Irish children; and the ghastly, ghoulish Mrs Chelsea, who is all teeth and no manners. Jack’s greedy evil brother Jake makes an appearance too, although he proves to be more Southpark than South-End-On-Sea; an unwelcome visitor in an otherwise hilarious family show.
Until Sunday, then tours
– Sara Keating

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