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Sure Thing


***

First Past The Post

No good deed goes unpunished in Eric O'Brien & Jed Murray’s "Sure Thing.” A tight paced two hander exploring a day in the life of a Dublin bookies. Featuring O’Brien and Murray in various roles, "Sure Thing" examines the agonies and ecstasies of chasing a chance. Yet if "Sure Thing" tackles gambling and addiction on the surface, underneath deeper interrogations are taking place as one of the last bastions of old world masculinity is put under the microscope. A world were loser’s dockets litter the floor as broken men bet to feel bigger than themselves. Presented with heart and humour, "Sure Thing" might stumble at the third hurdle, but it gets back on its feet quickly before galloping towards a fantastic finish.

Told through interwoven monologues and dialogue, "Sure Thing" finds Wayne getting ready for his daughter’s communion. At the same time Tom, having his own estranged family playing on his mind, is getting ready to open the bookies. Wayne’s got his best suit on, his communion medal, and twenty euro in his pocket. Enough to place a bet on a sure thing which, when it comes in, will pay for his daughter’s big day and maybe help Wayne win back Tina. Meanwhile a Steinbeck like simpleton, (replete with a subtle reference to rabbits), emerges in a parallel story of gentle giant, Simon, who finds himself in a bookies for the first time. Brought there by Dean, a country boy back in Dublin after a mad weekend back home playing bingo. Simon’s never placed a bet before and Dean’s about to take the biggest gamble of his life. Before the day is over one man might never leave while the other may never come back, and two fathers on a collision course might find themselves making some serious choices.

Like a day at the races, "Sure Thing” is a question of highs and lows. While director Tracy Ryan keeps things tight and moving, compositionally "Sure Thing" looks untidily staged, lacking snap and rigour. Something Mary Doherty’s cheap looking video projections compound, looking intrusive and distracting, aside from the horserace. Structurally, with its use of multiple perspectives, "Sure Thing" can weave a little all over the place when it comes to narrative. Yet the simplicity and directness of its language, with its rich veins of humour and illuminating insights, keeps you permanently engaged, the script showing remarkable robustness given its fractured focus. As do performances, which see O’Brien and Murray switching between characters whose emotional territories couldn’t be further apart. Throughout, Murray turns in a solid performance as straight man Tom, the voice of reason to the jittery, perma-squinting Wayne. If Murray’s Simple Simon is a curious delight, he risks appearing cartoonish at times, potentially undermining the hidden punch cleverly contained in the comedy by leaning too far into being comic. Meanwhile, O’Brien’s hopeful romantic Dean, sliding unevenly in and out of accents, is equally solid. Yet it’s O’Brien’s Wayne who catches the eye, an emotional tornado pulling everyone into its destructive path that sees O’Brien deliver a truly magnificent performance.

Win, lose, or draw, the bookies is where men can feel big feelings and you’d happily pay money for that. Especially when everything else feels wrong. Smart, funny, with some fascinating questions about what we’re really buying in a bookies, "Sure Thing" may not be a 50 to 1 sure thing, but you’ll be hard pressed to find 50 more enjoyable minutes. Odds on favourite to being first past the post with huge laughs, smart questions, and lots of heart, "Sure Thing" is well worth a flutter.

"Sure Thing,” written and performed by Eric O'Brien & Jed Murray and presented by The Corps Ensemble, runs at The Bohemian Theatre, Phibsboro until Feb 22.

For more information visit The Corps Ensemble.

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© 2016 Chris O'Rourke