Ambitious Birthday plans

Gonzo Theatre’s production is sharp and committed but can’t match the scale of its ambition


The Birthday Man

Black Box, Smock Alley Theatre


The Birthday Man is an incredibly ambitious undertaking, not just in its reach – which encompasses a century of social, political and economic change – but in its aesthetic, which combines realist, expressionist and digital devices and demands that its cast of seven play more than 20 roles.

Writer Philip Doherty cannily gives the audience three narrative anchor points: the birth of the play’s protagonist, Oisin, in Dublin in 1913; London in the 1980s at the height of the IRA’s terrorist campaigns; and the present day, where the 100-year-old Oisin is being looked after by resentful grandchildren who are just waiting for their inheritance.

It is this contemporary frame that is the least successful element of The Birthday Man, which pulls the play’s politics towards the polemic; the historical resonances of the 1913 Lockout amid contemporary apathy need no elucidation. The close proximity of the audience to the action, meanwhile, denies the production the epic quality its subject matter and style demands.

However, this is a sharp piece of writing and a committed production. With some sharper focus and better resources, this Gonzo Theatre production might go further.

Until Sept 15