A Shallow Grave
Standing over the grave of an old friend for the first time in fifteen years, two gangsters meet to end a gangland feud that has left countless bodies in its wake. The Rev, now a notorious and hugely successful international master criminal, squares up to his former childhood friend and brother in arms, Donal, with only one of them leaving the cemetery alive. In Jimmy Murphy’s “Idlewild,” stories and histories come hard and fast as two criminals reminisce while they dig a grave, offering a modest redemption tale redeemed by two strong performances.
With a visual sensibility that mirrors the The Krays, Legend, and Reservoir Dogs, Murphy’s criminal-chic gangsters square off like two opposing peacocks. Flaunting their respective masculine feathers, they display a tough veneer they never really get beyond. The slick and sinister Rev, superbly conveyed by Rex Ryan, sports a large bottle of water and a tan from the Costa Del Crime where he now resides. The less successful Donal, with the rough edges of the street still hanging about him, wonderfully delivered by Ruairí Heading, has brought along shovels and a whiskey flask. While digging, or standing about in Andy Murray’s beautifully realised graveyard, they proceed to recount a contrived and unconvincing tale of a post office robbery and the murders of friends and family, all heading towards an obvious conclusion.
With an ending easily spotted from two miles away, Ryan and Heading dig deep, obvious pun intended, to make this lacklustre history of crime and criminals into something engaging. For despite being steeped in gangland feuds, murders, robberies, and betrayal, “Idlewild” has very little excitement or energy on offer. Nor does it compensate with insight or depth. Never deviating from its heavy, plodding pace, Murphy’s direction keeps everything rigidly in check, almost eradicating what little differences exist between characters, allowing the writer’s voice to dominate. Language soon becomes riddled with cliches, and with some self consciously, grandiose phrasing that attempts to elevate this troubled tale into something moderately biblical.
“Idlewild” makes some big asks, and if there's an intriguing play trying to get out, it's not Murphy’s finest moment. Lacking tension, guile, charm, real warmth, or even humour, Murphy’s one tone characters often trade their humanity for a social polemic on crime in Dublin, becoming voice boxes for a history, and histories, not fully realised. All built around stories and people we never really get to know, or fully come to care for. Thankfully Ryan and Heading pull us deep enough into its shallow grave to smell enough of the earth about us with two stand-out performances.
“Idlewild” by Jimmy Murphy, produced by Glass Mask Theatre, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until August 11
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre