Review – The Night Alive – Donmar Warehouse

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I do two basic sorts of reviews on this blog. One is a production focused review, for plays I’ve seen before or dance/orchestral performances; the other is a text-focused review. The second is for new plays, or plays I’ve never seen before. I very much like going into a play knowing as little about it as possible (other than “it’s good”). Since I didn’t study theater after high school this isn’t too hard (even for some things Shakespeare wrote), but I also actively avoid reading scripts of plays I haven’t seen. Sure, I want to see everything Pinter and Ibsen (and, I think, Strindberg) have written; but I want to SEE them, live, on stage, not try to imagine them as I turn pages. Ditto watching them on the small or large screen: I want to watch theater IN the theater.

And I want to see new plays – lots of new plays. So I was thrilled when I managed to score 10 quid front row tickets to the Donmar’s sold-out production of The Night Alive, Conor McPherson’s latest show. I’ve had mixed experiences at his plays; The Veil had me out the door at the interval, whereas The Weir had me hanging on every word and gaping at the brilliant character creation. Kinda hard to believe it was the same guy, huh? But I hoped that the genius of the earlier work would prove the rule, and the flop of the historical ghost story would be the “exception.”

I found myself a bit baffled as to the “where and when” of this play – the setting was a shabby bed sit, with papers and trash strewn everywhere and two single beds in the room – the bathroom a clapped together room tucked in the back with more crap on top of it. Based on the presence of energy drink cans and bottled water, I figured it could have been set at any time from the early 2000s to the present (although I was told that the coin operated electricity meter had been completely phased out, so perhaps this was some ten years back – I was short on cash so no program or cast list to illuminate me).

As it stands, the play reconfirmed for me McPherson’s mastery of natural speech patterns as well as his ability to create fully realized people out of text on a page. (Doubtlessly the actors have to take some credit for this too, but it’s the author who can make me believe that the person speaking on stage existed as a child.) But the plot was … elliptical (and I think the reason why the two women behind me in the ladies’ loo queue said they hated the play). It was very much “moving forward in time,” but in some ways it seems that nothing happened or was resolved … none of the characters changed much (other than falling in love).

But … I loved it. Life doesn’t always make sense of have a plot, but this play was more than just “a few scenes from the life of a tightfisted Irish scalawag” – it gave me the same elated feeling at the end as the brilliant Constellations did, and for the same reason: its message was, “In this short life that we live, all we can hope for is to make a human connection. This is rare and precious: treasure it.” I walked out feeling like Ciarán Hinds (as the scalawag) and Caoilfhionn Dunne (as Amy) had given us a tremendous gift. What a lovely, lovely play it was.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 4th, 2013. It continues through July 27th. Warning: contains graphic violence that I found quite disturbing.)

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