Thomas, one hundred years old, is a one armed fiddle player, his father of indeterminate age a one legged man. Yet together they achieve a kind of reluctant symbiosis as they travel through the valley of death in search of Thomas’s unknown, seventy year old son. In Mark Doherty’s delightfully surreal comedy “Trad,” legacy looms large in both the genes and tradition as a father and son set out on a pilgrimage to discover the next stage of the journey. A journey which explores, half joking but whole in earnest, what tradition, legacy, and being a father might actually mean.
First produced in 2004, “Trad’s” stories might help shorten the road but they lengthen with each new telling. Stories of men who carved their own tombstones with a tooth, or women who’d seduce you with a conceiving stare. Set in a world were once pretty girls are bent double over their knitting and fathers and sons get by without expressing affection. Where people hate the Sassenach and love to exaggerate, where dreams of old loves might be portents to future events, and where a hurley might as well be a walking stick. A world, or a way of being in the world, that’s worth preserving. At least that's what Thomas’s father thinks. But Thomas isn’t so sure about standing still and looking back on stories of men who never landed on the moon, wondering if the world can change, or at least they way in which they move through it, instead of the circle of life returning again to how it all started.
Under Aaron Monaghan’s direction, Doherty’s hulkingly slow script achieves something of an understated, Beckett-light intensity. Reinforced by Michelle Leggett’s make up and Helen Foy’s costumes that suggest Waiting for Godot meets League of Gentlemen. Indeed, suggestion is all the rage in “Trad,” with Naomi Faughnan’s evocative set, superbly lit by Susannah Cummins, traversing mountain, graveyard, and the cold consuming sea. All of which, compositionally, Monaghan handles with aplomb. Music by Jim Doherty, played live by Tony Byrne on guitar and Andy Morrow on fiddle, strains with an ambiguous tension that runs throughout “Trad,” a tension that resides in both venerating the genre whilst displaying a cheeky prodding at its stereotypical foibles.
Bringing it all together are three physically focused performances, with Emmet Kirwan turning in an extremely accomplished turn as Dad. Seamus O’Rourke’s Thomas is simply magnificent, steeped in O’Rourke’s rural rich robustness that booms and bellows as its heart breaks. Yet with both men oppressed by the weight of age and tradition, its a scene stealing Clare Barrett who ensures the comedy soars as both a knitting crone and a parish priest who wouldn’t look amiss in Father Ted. Something you wished for more of to compensate for “Trad’s” heavy, lumbering weightiness.
We may have had rice in Ireland for a long time, but that does’t make it Irish. So what are we to make of the parish priest, Father Rice? Just one of countless rib elbowing subversions that underscore Doherty’s dark, thought provoking humour. Which sees “Trad” prompting deeper investigations of Ireland, tradition, and the relationship between fathers and sons. All up for grabs in what is a delightful production built around three top class performances.
“Trad” by Mark Doherty, presented by Livin’ Dred Theatre Company, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until May 11 before concluding its national tour at The Everyman, Cork from May 21 to May 24.