Jury hung on a split decision
Corcadorca, Red Kettle, Gonzo, Druid, to name but a few. The contribution of theatre companies based outside Dublin towards what’s best in Irish theatre is immense. Looking to join that illustrious list are Waterford based, Strive Theatre, whose latest production, “Will It Fit in The Van?” by Conor Clancy, leaves the tantalising possibility hanging. On the one hand, this young company have been extremely busy with an Edinburgh Fringe already under their belt, and a Play Development Scheme already in place. On the other hand, with “Will It Fit in The Van?” arising out of their Play Development Scheme, this should give them serious pause for thought. Clancy’s script is certainly quirky and has something to offer, but it’s not the finished product, despite having undergone development. Indeed, in its current incarnation, “Will It Fit in The Van?” is about a level above student review, and two rigorous rewrites away from being potentially brilliant.
You could be forgiven, on first impressions, for dismissing “Will It Fit in The Van?” as car crash theatre. A headache inducing, pre-show beat doesn't inspire confidence, nor does the overly long, uninspiring musical introduction against which hyper performing actors battle to be heard. When its tale of mistaken identity, kidnappings, bisexual cheats and incompetent drug dealers finally kicks off, it does so with a wild, flaying energy that appears unfocused. For a moment, it looks like it's all going horribly wrong. But look a little closer. Set design by Rab Urguhart is realised with meticulous detail, negotiating the restrictions of the space with great finesse, right down to the details inside the barely seen kitchen. If director Al Dalton struggles with the disjointed pace and uneven timing of Clancy’s comedic script, seeming to direct the cast to play it for laughs, he displays a compositional sensibility that shows some genuine talent.
Clancy’s problematic script has all the comic stylings of an episode of “Father Ted” meeting an episode of “The Young Ones,” without either of their sense of comic timing. Some moments are funny, some are incredibly funny, but too often they fall between the cracks from not being properly set up, constantly trying to chase the laugh, and generally lacking balance. As a result, the laughter, on occasion, never quite arrives. A lengthy lecture on the Leaving Cert and on leaving the drug business being a case in point, the rendering of which causes the whole to lag, as well as undermining the scripts internal consistency. The contrived end, when it arrives, steers “Will It Fit in The Van?” firmly into the territory of the student sketch show, making the whole feel like a single sketch stretched to an hour and twenty. Something that should have been picked up during this play's development. For Clancy’s characters are extremely relatable, his story shows some genuine, comic ingenuity, with his representations of localised characters and colour being wonderfully rendered. There’s a potentially brilliant comedy here trying to get out, which a brave cast try to realise.
Alan Mooney as the older brother Dez, looks solid, for the most part, playing the frustrated straight man to his half deaf brother, Daz, even if toppling into the over-the- top at times, as do the rest of the cast. Darragh Keating as Father Michael is also solid, as is Niamh Kavanagh as the ruthless Boss, and Maggie Donovan as the local girl in demand, Amy. Ciarán MacArtain as the Bishop struggles to land it, though, in fairness, it’s a huge ask coming in so late in proceedings with so bombastic a character who topples the whole into the realm of the sketch show. Patrick Lehane as the younger brother, Daz, a lost soul looking for a new direction, strikes the balance wonderfully, crafting some nuanced moments of comedic or dramatic power by stating, over-stating or understating to terrific effect.
“Will It Fit in The Van?” certainly shows passion, desire and enthusiasm. Imbued with a DIY ethos, its energy is infectious at times. But there’s a rigour lacking that’s required urgently. For while there’s often something happening, it’s not happening consistently and, too often, the laughs don’t always arrive. Feeling at times like an over extended sketch, “Will It Fit in The Van?” has the potential to be far more. On the evidence of “Will It Fit in The Van?” Strive Theatre, and writer Conor Clancy, are in a period of transition. A juncture from which they can either crash and burn, or else rise to great heights. It’s up to them. So, go see “Will It Fit in The Van?” You’ll certainly have a laugh or two. And you might just be seeing some serious talents for the future.
“Will It Fit in The Van?” by Conor Clancy, produced by Strive Theatre, runs at The Complex until April 15th
For more information, visit The Complex.