Keith Walsh has a way with words. Although there’s no discernible dramatic signpost to Pure Mental and his direction of traffic is backwards, there’s a verbal sustenance that keeps the attention.
When he gives the often abused promise to tell the truth, the promise is made as if the truth is really going to be told. When he speaks of Ireland in the 1980s and sharpens that to Ireland in the midlands in the 1980s, the detail heightens the conviction that he knows what he’s talking about.
This should be unsurprising as the subject of his first play is himself and his reaction to the unhappy ending of his career as a 2FM breakfast show presenter. Not exactly a morning DJ but the song, not referenced here, seems to fit his sense of grievance. Both confessional and accusatory, neither element has been channelled to provide structure for the hour-long performance.
The problem is that rather like the Covid fiction now current, it’s too soon. The material hasn’t been weathered. Instead, unleashed by therapy, Walsh says talking has become his thing. No Willy Loman then, but a monologue in which dreams and aspirations fade to an ambition to be Ian Dempsey.
Director and co-writer Janet Moran might have made a little more of Walsh’s ability to capture the essences of ordinary observations. He ponders the genealogy of bogs, the classroom brutality of a religious brother (the order unspecified but probably Christian), the moods of a mother that could be either not too bad or bad, and reverently lists RTÉ celebrity names as if they had a global reach.
Although obviously unable to mimic a man peeling potatoes, these allusions along with Walsh’s ebullient stage presence, are what will attract people to a production from Riverbank Arts Centre which now goes on a seventeen-venue national tour.
At the Hawkswell Theatre Sligo tonight, Tuesday 23rd and throughout the country until December 16th and 17th at the Watergate, Kilkenny