I Poured the Tea: A sometimes confusing but ambitious debut

Theatre review: The script is full of red herrings and late-stage exposition that have little bearing on the narrative

Jason Gilroy (left) and Matthew O'Donnell in I Poured the Tea. Photograph: Ste Murray

I Poured the Tea

Rating: 3/5

Two men are marooned on a desert island, with no idea of how they got there. In an act of imaginative generosity they conjure up the contours of a 5 star hotel, though sadly there is no wardrobe, no trouser press. There is, however, a TV, and as it flicks on intermittently, through the static they begin to piece together their past. As caterers, it transpires, they were witness to the decisions behind the banking bailout of 2008. As working-class “men of straw”, they are perfect, powerless scapegoats.

Nick Makin’s debut play takes many ambitious, dramaturgical turns. Its Waiting for Godot opening moments set an absurdist tone that is followed through in the TV scenes, which are bravely staged in the window frame of the Boy’s School first floor corridor by director Casey Hallahan. The use of fortune cookie messages — each one more doom-laden than the next — adds a fatalistic frisson. Can the men outrun their bad luck?

Makin’s elliptical script, however, is full of red herrings and late-stage exposition that have little bearing on the narrative. Indeed, it detracts significantly from it. Themes of domestic violence, suicide and adoption emerge in the second act, but when the general premise is a reach towards satire, the last-minute attempts at psychological realism jar. What emerges is a sense of two plays fighting with each other. The absurdist scenario has the edge for the viewer but Makin seems more interested in cliched shortcuts for character depth.

Matthew O’Donnell plays the searching, pragmatic Boxer with a quizzical into-the-horizon stare, while Jason Gilroy plays the romantic clueless foil, Seamus. Rory Knox, Gerry Cannon and Eoin O’Sullivan have fun playing the villains, giving us lots of evil laughter and tapping, scheming fingers. Sound design from Éinne Ó Connachtáin — full of tense musical themes from classic 1970s film scores — help them stay within their roles.


The set design from Rory Knox sketches out the boundaries of a giant sandpit, but, confusingly, the characters step out of it on a few occasions. On one occasion, the boundary overreach is an ill-fated attempt at escape, although the dramatic potential here is underplayed. Elsewhere, these breaches just add to the confusion, and as Boxer takes a flask of tea out of his suitcase to settle down to watch the final instalment of his own life, he seems more interested in the story than we are.

Runs in Smock Alley, Dublin until July 16th

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer