Trad review: Father and 100-year-old son, locked in a torturous relationship

Livin’ Dred seems dutiful to rather than inspired by Mark Doherty’s comic look at stifling tradition

Trad: Clare Barrett, Emmet Kirwan and Seamus O’Rourke in Aaron Monaghan’s production at the Abbey

Trad: Clare Barrett, Emmet Kirwan and Seamus O’Rourke in Aaron Monaghan’s production at the Abbey

 

TRAD

Peacock stage, Abbey Theatre
★★★☆☆
Mark Doherty’s debut play, a sideways look at generational inheritance first staged in 2004, seems to follow in a proud tradition. Thomas (Seamus O’Rourke), a hectored 100-year-old son, and his implacable, unspecifically ancient da (Emmet Kirwan) are locked in a compatibly torturous relationship.

If that didn’t already recall the mordant absurdism of Samuel Beckett, the sight of these musty, matted figures in Livin’ Dred Theatre Company’s modest touring production, bickering astride a grave, ought to seal the deal.

Their own bitter endgame must be delayed, however, when Thomas reveals that somewhere out there is a son he never knew: a young stripling aged 70. Da would like to meet him.

And so, packing up old grievances that would give Monty Python’s outlandishly deprived four Yorkshiremen a run for their penury – like the great olive crisis or the 1916 oxygen ban (“And no one allowed to breathe on weekdays”) – together with Da’s reflex disdain for the English, a precious family heirloom, they set out on a quest to meet the future. What will they pass on?

As director, Aaron Monaghan is as dutiful to the play as the obliging Thomas is to his da (including the live performance of Jim Doherty’s nimble score for guitar and fiddle), although less likely to seek departure.

Rotating around Naomi Faughnan’s sparing set, lined with fetching, illustrated lanterns, O’Rourke is the more formidable presence on this picaresque journey, his stentorian voice carrying a pleasing wobble of hysteria. Kirwan, warmer than menacing, leads them through a graveyard, where headstones narrow down the search list, on to impish assaults pegging apples at passing train and on to the birth records of Clare Barrett’s jovially decrepit priest.

That it plays like a shaggy-dog story is partly the point. Stories here, whether wide-eyed accounts of one man’s legendary fertility or another’s ridiculous powers of perseverance, are entertaining send-ups of otherwise stifling legends. It doesn’t seem accidental that any word of religion comes with a forelock-tugging reference to “your man”.

But the Catholic Church is a more diminished force now than it was even 15 years ago. In the play such influences are already dissolving as poignantly as Da’s memory – or, more optimistically, his prejudices. “Is that what tradition is? Everyone standing still and looking backwards?” Thomas finally remonstrates. Even if Da disappears, the play knows, there’s no getting rid of him. Such is the way with tradition. You have to make your peace with it to be able to move forward.

At the Abbey until Saturday, May 11th, then at the Everyman, Cork, from May 21st to 24th

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