Country and Irish: Failing to hit the right note

Slick production and deft performance can’t compensate for undercooked script

COUNTRY AND IRISH

Smock Alley Theatre
★★☆☆☆

“If you can’t talk to yourself, who can you talk to?” Donie Burris asks as he presses the record button on his old cassette player. He addresses the machine as Walter – a reference to the insurance salesman’s confessional in Double Indemnity, a film that casts an underdeveloped shadow on both Donie’s life and Pat McCabe’s play. However, the conversation he is having is really with himself.

Donie is a “mammy’s boy” with a large debt, a fearsome reputation and a weird sexual fetish. At the behest of a friend, he signed up to various ill-fated property development schemes, but they have fallen through and Albanian gangsters have come to collect what they are owed. When Donie invites a Polish woman and her son to live with him, for sexual favours and slave wages, he unwittingly gives away the secrets that will spur his downfall. The hour-long play is a steady movement towards his climatic moment of reckoning.

With the central theatrical device of a voice recorder and a crucial banana prop, there is a knowing nod to Samuel Beckett in Country and Irish. However, the tribute to the master of existential absurdity brings little substance to bear upon McCabe’s script, which also includes references to Teletubbies. The grab-all postmodern posturing seems designed more for an easy laugh than for any textural or thematic reason, while the vast cast of characters never come to life beyond caricature. Peter Gowen is a nimble performer, at his best when embodying the minor characters in the story, from smooth-talking nemesis Johnny Rafters to Mrs Warsaw Washout to The Little Prince of Longford, who comes to an inevitable, untimely end. Donie, however, is also only lightly sketched, and it is difficult for Gowen to find a deeper level of emotional connection beyond the surface comedy.

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Director Conor Hanratty keeps the unfolding action snappy, effectively employing sound and music to aid the sharp transitions in tone and theme and setting, while Eoin Lennon’s lighting brings a shifting, sinister atmosphere to Medb Lambert’s simple set. However, a slick production just cannot compensate for the puerility of an undercooked script.

Until April 9th