Last Orders at the Dockside review: Celebration of a way of life no longer with us

Dublin Theatre Festival: Dermot Bolger’s social drama offers a window into history, but may struggle with contemporary audiences

Last Orders at the Dockside: the music ranges from Irish ballads to 1980s socialist anthems. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Last Orders at the Dockside: the music ranges from Irish ballads to 1980s socialist anthems. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

 

LAST ORDERS AT THE DOCKSIDE

Abbey stage, Abbey Theatre 
★★★☆☆
Last Orders at the Dockside opens with a death or, more literally, a funeral. Lifetime docker Luke Dempsey has passed away from work-related illness, and his family and friends have gathered at his favourite pub to mourn his passing. In case the metaphorical implications of Luke’s fate are not clear, The Dockside itself is due to close its doors on this very night. For writer Dermot Bolger, this double tragedy marks the death of an entire culture. 

Last Orders at the Dockside, a commissioned work from the Dublin Port, feels no need to hide its origins, or its uncomplicated celebration of a way of life no longer with us. The sense of mourning is compounded by the plaintive undercurrent of Ray Harman’s score and Matt Padden’s sound design, as well as Alyson Cummins’ box set: we are looking through a window into history.

Anthony Brophy and Jimmy Smallhorne in Dermot Bolger’s Last Orders at the Dockside. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh
Anthony Brophy and Jimmy Smallhorne in Dermot Bolger’s Last Orders at the Dockside. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

That said, there are some contemporary resonances to the politically-charged banter that occupies the characters over the course of the 140 minute, two-act play: the dysfunction of the care system, the inability of the country to serve its young people, and the mysteries of Fine Gael; a joke which lands particularly well. Bolger spreads these concerns across the generations, from the newly-widowed Maisie (the stoic, stern Brid Ní Neachtain) to her indebted son Alfie, from his frustrated singer Cathy (Lisa Lambe), who is fretting for the future, to newcomer Lyn (Juliette Crosbie), who can’t see a future in Ireland for herself at all. In case you are in any doubt as to what they stand for, Bolger has the characters explain themselves as they reveal themselves, compounding the sense that this is a play that is about something important rather than a drama of action, despite a high-stakes subplot involving ex-industrial school inmate Macker (Terry O’Neill), who is treated so badly that he turns to crime.

With the help of lighting designer Paul Keogan, director Graham McLaren isolates the characters in pairs as they discuss intimate business within the public space of the bar. He also employs a five-strong live band to flesh out the musical allusions, which range from Irish ballads to 1980s socialist anthems, and which come across as a further indulgent nod towards nostalgia. The ensemble is strong, and a Dublin audience will appreciate the many local jokes. However, this is an old-fashioned drama of social conscience that will struggle to find a connection with a contemporary audience or a place within the current theatrical culture.

Runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until Saturday, October 26th

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