Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful/East Belfast Boy
Male Order Catalogue
Prime Cut Productions offer a two for one special with an enterprising double dill of one man monologues, each capable of standing on its own, each one exploring aspects of male mental health. “Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful” by John Patrick Higgins, and “East Belfast Boy" by Fintan Brady, catalogue two intimate accounts of the male psyche in distress. But the similarities end there as, thematically and theatrically, both take strikingly contrasting approaches. The end result is a curious juxtaposition in which a well made monologue talks unconvincingly about hope while a one-man tidal wave makes you momentarily feel it.
In “Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful” the self-proclaimed inadequacies of the Irish beta male are humorously writ large. Curled up on a couch, a bottle of wine always close to hand, the self serving, middle aged Malachy mulls over his lot with sardonic longing, hoping that hope will soon desert him. Life for the likeable Malachy has been an endless chain of short suffering relationships, culminating in an encroaching date with a terminal illness popular in Hollywood movies. One that has him longing for a quiet death on his own terms. For Malachy there’s an alleged distinction between living and breathing, and he’s not interested in simply hanging about and doing the latter. Which comes as something of a surprise given that breathing is pretty much all his passive existence appears to have amounted to. Whatever highs and lows he’s experienced have all been provided courtesy of others. If his final decision comes as no real surprise, his reasons might offer some serious insights. Or just more self deluding self-justifications as to why life, like himself, is always as it is.
Covering similar territory to Eoin Colfer’s My Real Life, with an abundance of easy charm, “Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful” straddles an uneasy divide. If Higgins intended his often wonderfully humorous script as an ironic interrogation of beta male mentality, its unclear whether Malachy got the message. For the initially engaging Malachy, who loves to run away only to run another day, risks becoming difficult to care for in his self-pitying miseries. Living in the self-absorbed, passive reality of his head, a reality where even the deaths of others serve as slights to his self esteem, his descent into suicidal thoughts feels like wading ankle deep in a tide pool rather than plumbing the darker depths. Thankfully an excellent Simon O'Gorman manages to make the oft insufferable Malachy hugely engaging. Landing somewhere between a Peter O’Toole style storyteller’s charm and being trapped in an elevator with an oversharing, world suffering narcissist, O’Gorman makes you feel a genuine connection. This despite Malachy’s endless sufferings sounding as sanitised as those in the movies he dismisses. Throughout, director Rhiann Jeffreys keeps everything moving with wonderful assurance, eliciting a well balanced and deeply engaging performance from O’Gorman. A simple raked set design by Ciaran Bagnall, and lighting by Sarah Jane Shiels, both do so very much by doing so very little, rendering texture and context beautifully.
If Shiels’ lighting understates in “Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful,” it positively explodes in Fintan Brady’s searing "East Belfast Boy,” becoming absolutely integral to the experience which it both illuminates and underscores. The tale of twenty year old Davy who likes to lie in bed, smoke dope, watch Jeremy Kyle and play Call of Duty, this east Belfast boy has nothing and everything to live for. Told through a series of shuffling, staccato episodes, Davy stammers through loud looping outbursts and moments of charm as he relates his love for his Gran who sees ghosts, his girlfriend whose expecting a baby, and for all the DJ’s and drugs he can get his hands on. Mostly he loves East Belfast. But whether he can survive by doing what he needs to do to survive might be a problem. For his survival looks like it’s starting to kill him.
Under Emma Jordan’s superb direction a collaborative cohort of top class artists combine to bring Brady’s near musical script to life. If Brady’s lines look light on rhymes, they’re positively heavy on pounding musical rhythms and phrased repetitions. Indeed, there are times “East Belfast Boy” looks, feels, and sounds like a one-man concert performance for a concept album. One featuring a pummelling soundtrack by DJ Phil Kieran, against which some signature choreographic moments by Oona Doherty, replete with facial sneers, prove irresistible. All channeled through a viscerally affecting performance by Ryan McParland. Jittery, skittish, explosive yet subdued, a doped up looking McParland delivers an extraordinary fusion of physical and verbal pyrotechnics in which every drop of spit, every breath, every smile and grin is keenly felt. In the end you don’t so much encounter Davy so much as experience him. An experience whose immediacy overpowers you, leaving you reeling. Together, Jordan, Kieran, Doherty and McParland beautifully merge with Brady’s text to marry music, movement, words and performance into undulating waves, pulsing with explosive energy, before lulling into silence, stillness or gentle straining. All speaking with a single voice, along with Shiels' stunning lights and Bagnall’s minimal set. If it’s a voice whose speed and articulation sometimes sees moments getting lost in delivery, it's still a voice vital and powerful in its intensity.
Masculinity and mental health issues, or masculinity as a mental health issue? In “Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful” and “East Belfast Boy” it’s never quite clear. Similarly the tension between how we perceive the world and the world that we perceive. What is clear is that both Malachy and Davy inhabit the centre of a suffering universe, the former’s environment a victim of his pained perceptions, the latter’s perceptions a victim of his pained environment. Both experiences conveyed through two remarkably compelling performances. Prime Cut Productions conclude their national tour of "Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful” and “East Belfast Boy” with a brief stint at The Project Arts Centre. Don’t miss this last chance to see what is a truly powerful production. And the best value for money by some distance.
"Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful" by John Patrick Higgins, and “East Belfast Boy” by Fintan Brady, produced by Prime Cut Productions, runs at The Project Arts Centre until February 20.