Kian Harris is a serial shoplifter. The Robin Hood of Haute Couture, Kian robs from the rich, but never on a Sunday, and gives to the poor at a discount, to his beloved Nanny for free, keeping a little for himself to pay for a fresh start at a fashion college in London. For Kian may have been born to inner city Dublin, but he has no intentions of dying there, nor of getting caught in its undertow. Nor has hotel receptionist, and Kian’s bestie, Charleigh Brennan. Coming out of a long term relationship that ended badly, the volatile Charleigh is hurting hard these days. No matter how much hope or hooped earrings Kian gives her nothing seems to take the edge away. With her Dad having done a runner and her Mam no longer interested, there’s no one to help guide her through the pain. The only light on her immediate horizon being a full on, no expense spared, first communion party for the daughter of a local neighbour. Somewhere she and Kian can let off steam before heading to the bright lights of London. But when the past comes calling, and accounts need to be settled, will their friendship survive the day? In Thommas Kane Byrne’s (TKB’s) “Say Nothin' To No One” the joys, jealousies, loves, losses and loyalties of two working class Dubliners deliver laughter and heartache in abundance. An electrifying rollercoaster that sets your heart racing, “Say Nothin' To No One” might take one or two of its curves a little too quickly, but its laugh out loud, offer no apologies energy is both exhilarating and infectious.
In TKB’s brave, often brilliant, if ultimately unbalanced Stewart Parker Award nominated script, your one true friend might prove to be the only real family you have left. A refreshing blast of fresh air, “Say Nothin' To No One” pulls no punches as it laughs, cries and defies the odds, refusing to silence its own ambitions. If the shift from overdone exposition to central story takes a little while to arrive, once it does its candy floss comedy becomes laced with dramatic shots of sulphuric acid. Built around alternating monologues overflowing with superb, sharply observed pop culture references, occasionally delivered through rhyme, “Say Nothin' To No One's” is smart, sharp, sexy and sincere. Yet it’s not without its issues. Its raw, deeply unsettling ending raises far more questions than it answers, leaving you wishing more had been excavated here. And while we’re often told about the friendship between Kian and Charleigh, there’s not always enough done to show it. A situation compounded by some brave, if ultimately problematic staging.
Director Amilia Stewart’s decision to stage in traverse proves to be something of a pyrrhic victory. If it ensures an emphasis on fashion, this is something the script and costumes, designer uncredited, already do quite well. Ultimately its runway device is vastly underused, bringing with it its own share of problems. Not least of which is that, compositionally, it weakens the relationship between Kian and Charleigh. Inhabiting opposite ends of the runway, passing and meeting each other only occassionally and briefly, their relationship seems more defined by distance than by intimacy. In addition, the traverse delivers a viewing experience equivalent to watching a tennis match being played at speed, the rapid and constant shifting between viewpoints coming close to causing whiplash. Yet where the traverse really runs into problems is in what you’re constantly missing. With Stewart smartly ensuring there’s no dead weight in either performance, both actors are always on. But traverse means you’re usually only seeing one or the other. With the eye being led by the ear, focus normally attends to the speaker. Yet reactions which often richly inform what’s being said, particularly Ericka Roe's superlative Charleigh, are frequently lost unless self-consciously looked for. In which case the speaker then becomes unseen.
Whatever the shortcomings of script and staging, there’s nothing amiss in the palpable chemistry between Thommas Kane Byrne and Ericka Roe. If pace proves problematic for being hurried at times, one hopes it’s a case of opening night nerves that will settle down to a rhythm as the run progresses. For speed meant some lines didn’t land as sharply as they should have. Yet what lines occasionally missed, physicality delivered on, with Stewart ensuring the physical expressiveness of both performances to be top notch. Signature gestures, beautifully, if hurriedly articulated, superbly convey secondary characters. If the multi-talented TKB proves to be “Say Nothin' To No One’s” undisputed maestro, his devilish Kian a sharp-tongued delight, Roe proves to be its undisputed star. Roe is a genuine tour de force as the walking wound Charleigh, too tender to the touch, recoiling in rage at the first breath of pain, handling the plays dark tragic demands and secondary comic characters with deft assurance. Indeed, Byrne’s unflinching and unsettlingly honest ending is made utterly convincing courtesy of Roe’s remarkable performance, with Roe’s perfectly pitched expressiveness suggesting answers to questions the script only ever hints at, making you still care even when you may no longer even want to.
There are those who might argue “Say Nothin' To No One” glorifies and normalises a drink and drug taking, inner-city crime culture by celebrating that culture without interrogating the people behind it. But such prejudice fails to recognise the opposite as being in fact the case. For “Say Nothin' To No One” offers a warts and all interrogation of the ecstasies and agonies of inner city culture, and of the conditions which give rise to it, while celebrating the people whose lives are lived in its daily embrace. Recognising them as flawed yet fiercely fabulous, damaged yet determined to dream, selfish yet loyal and loving, both broken and refusing to be broken. Recognising them, first and foremost, as human. In doing so “Say Nothin' To No One” accords them both representation and voice, offering invaluable insights into the human condition by doing so. When it comes to “Say Nothin' To No One” say something to everyone. Say it is a joyous, heartfelt, partially flawed triumph full of laughter and tears, raising some unsettling questions in its struggle to be the best it can be. Like all those who dare give voice to a dream. Wherever they may hail from.
“Say Nothin' To No One” by Thommas Kane Byrne (TKB) presented by The Breadline Collective in association with Theatre Upstairs, runs at The Project Arts Centre until December 1.
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre.