DUBLIN CAROL | STAGE REVIEW
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, Mon 5 Feb
Is there a bigger bummer than being alone at Christmas? Yeah. Being a drunk alone on Christmas. Wait… make that a triple: Being a drunk alone on Christmas who works in a funeral parlour. Dublin Carol isn’t your Yuletide-cup-of-cheer play. Conor McPherson’s unexpectedly quiet yet gripping tale of abuse, addiction, despair, loneliness, a shattered family and possible redemption unfolds in a story that hits close to home for some.
The three-act play opens on a Christmas Eve with John (Simon Wolfe), a middle-aged alcoholic who’s not looking forward to spending another holiday in solitude. He’s depended on the kindness of strangers for far too long and is getting by on Irish charm and humour but has hit rock-bottom. With him is Mark (Julian Moore-Cook), the 20-year-old nephew of his hospitalised employer. They’re returning from taking care of the dearly departed. His assistant wants to call it a day, but John desperately coaxes him to stay. He clearly wants company who can talk back and offers him a cuppa that turns into stronger stuff. With Mark as his now-captive audience, he recalls grim past funerals, and as he unscrews a bottle of whiskey, spirits of the past are unleashed.
When his estranged daughter Mary (Siwan Morris) comes with the news that her mum – John’s ex-wife – is dying of cancer, more ghosts come pouring out of another damn bottle. He hasn’t seen Mary in a decade (and his son for longer than that). Father-of-the-Year material he is not. He’s so full of self-pity and loathing that you want to slap him like Cher does to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, shouting “Snap out of it!”
Both he and Mary are damaged. The undertaker will be going out before the night is up; will he confront his past mistakes and try to make amends with family, or will he head to the nearest pub?
Sins of the fathers hang heavy over Dublin Carol’s deceptively simple set design by Lily Arnold. Everything is authentic in the dingy and shabby mortician’s office, complete with the same picture of Christ that hangs on every Catholic family’s wall and bog-standard Xmas decorations, right down to the much-stained rug in front of the kitchenette. It feels comfy and depressing at the same time. Director Matthew Xia strikes a perfect balance that has theatregoers hovering between the past, present and future with moving results.
Lighting like gaslights dimming and solemn humming hymn-like sounds, produce an eerie, supernatural mood adding a different dimension to the work – one person’s hell on earth or other’s ascension to heaven? This work would be powerful even without these touches – McPherson’s writing is so strong – but that otherworldly feeling gives it an extra edge.
Moore-Cook gives it his best with what he’s given as the kind youth, who at first, tries to make a run for it while the going’s good. His part leans toward a slightly comic, clueless side, to lighten the mood one supposes. Morris is very good as the grown child who – despite her absent and negligent father – still wants to have some kind of relationship with him. You can feel her frustration and doubt, not only about him, but with regards herself. Wolfe is superb as a man who’s struggling to keep it together and maybe make better choices. His John is painfully pathetic and sympathetic. You can almost see a sweat ready to break on his brow and him starting to get the shakes any minute. He inhabits his role so completely that you can practically smell the alcohol coming through his pores. He’s impressive but never showy, and the same goes for the entirety of Dublin Carol.
words RHONDA LEE REALI
photos MARK DOUET
Dublin Carol is at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, until Sat 17 Feb. Tickets: £16.
Under 25: Half price. Info: 029 2064 6900 / www.shermantheatre.co.uk