Come On Home: A tale of sexual repression and provincial suffocation

Review: Phillip McMahon's story of a returning emigrant offers few innovations but vivid performances and resonant dialogue

Come On Home


Peacock at The Abbey Theatre

Familial estrangement, religious hypocrisy, sexual repression, provincial suffocation: as a writer and director, Phillip McMahon is one of the most imaginative and astute chroniclers of contemporary Ireland, so it's perhaps a surprise that the themes running through his new play have been well-worn tropes in Irish theatre for half a century. Even more unexpected is the conventional dramatic structure McMahon uses to tell the story of an emigrant coming home for a parental funeral. But whatever is sacrificed in originality – there's an obvious debt to the work of Tom Murphy - is made up for in narrative impact and memorable characterisation.


The death of his mother brings Michael (Billy Carter) back to his native small town after a long absence and he resumes his uneasy relationship with his brothers, feckless Ray (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and aggressive Brian (Declan Conlon). As he hesitantly re-engages with his siblings and their respective partners, unfulfilled Aoife (Kathy Rose O’Brien) and sharp-tongued Martina (Aislin McGuckin), he is obliged to confront the frustrations of the present and, inevitably, the ghosts of the past. Chief among these are the circumstances that prompted Michael to leave home for life in London as a gay man.

Under Rachel O’Riordan’s direction, all this unfolds in almost traditional manner, with realistic set design and naturalistic acting. The dialogue eddies between revelatory peaks and periods of bitingly funny respite, the zingy one-liners delivered with aplomb by O’Brien and McGuckin in particular. If some of the storyline’s elements veer close to cliché, not least clerical involvement at several key points, the deft pacing and nuanced performances ensure a prevailing air of candour and authenticity: it’s clear that the church’s one-time domination of society has an enduring half-life.

Despite McMahon’s talent for irreverence, he doesn’t attempt to subvert the familiar elements, but with nothing to distract from the resonance of his tale, his new work is less dated than timeless.

Ends on the 4th of August.

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney is a radio columnist for The Irish Times and a regular contributor of Culture articles