Goodbye To The Hill
They were once emblematic of towns and cities across Ireland. The local corner shop at the heart of the community where the comedy and drama of life played itself out. Little of which is in evidence in the Mack Mirahmadi’s deeply flawed "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill,” in a problem production saved by some cracking performances.
Channeling Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours, ”The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" follows the trials of two brothers running a run down corner shop in Dublin. Trials which include missing socks, missing safes, and missing moisturiser, and not much else. If it sounds funny, it kind of is: just not funny enough, often enough, or varied enough. Setting up a handful of repetitive jokes "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" then milks them till they’re completely dry, then goes on milking. Like an interminably weak joke about a pair of Boca Junior socks on which much hinges. Smirkingly funny in places, it goes on and on and on and on. Then goes on and on and on and on and on some more. If the idea sounds funny in principle, the execution proves poor and laboured.
In "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" the Del Boy lite, Mick, played with oily ease by Owen O’Gorman, delights in his whiskey, moisturisers, and fleecing old ladies, showing a ruthlessness more cutting than the Corporations he rails against. Unlike his younger brother, Joey, played superbly at times by Barry John Kinsella; a thirteen second, sock less wonder dreaming of duck eggs. And dreaming of the lovely Dina, a weapon of a woman who’s recently become Joey’s love interest; played with huge presence by a compelling Eimear Keating. Life is bad for the brothers, till the homeless Johno turns up, then it becomes unbearable. Gifted at making a short story longer, Johno, a show stopping performance of utter brilliance by Colm Lennon, becomes a thorn in the brother's sides, who already suspect him of stealing from them. From burying dead pigeons to secrets about Dina, Johno has much to say. Yet maybe the lady with the real secrets is the old dear, Mary, a well played Denise O’Connor, if you care enough to listen.
There’s no doubt Mirahmadi shows a natural talent for capturing the rhythms and phrasing of everyday Dublin. But not knowing how to structure a gag, a scene, or a show, "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill” is all over the place. Unsure whether it wants to be a mainstream sit com, an absurdist comedy, or a Monty Python lookalike, it’s never clever enough to be any sort of mishmash. Throughout, an over reliance on relating off-stage anecdotes about fights and pizza boxes slows the action, with most stories sounding far more interesting than anything happening on stage. A contrived and lazy ending, when it thankfully arrives, plays like the convoluted conclusion to a secondary student's English homework: looking hurriedly dropped in because they want to go play, couldn’t be bothered, or don’t know how to finish the essay. Alas, ”The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill” engenders much the same feeling: that the writer went AWOL at the end, or threw in the towel, showing an unforgivable lack of interest, or a painful lack of effort.
None of which is helped by Mirahmadi worryingly co-directing his own script. Though what co-director Ciaran Gallagher brings to proceedings is anybodies guess. For two heads prove to be worse than one, resulting in a ton of basic errors, including uneven pacing, slack focus, scattered energy, poor composition and blocked sight lines. All of which poorly serve a talented cast.
"The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" offers a one hour sketch stretched to two hours of sucking the marrow dry from its decidedly brittle funny bones. What makes "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" salvageable is the calibre of natural talent on stage who often prove exhilarating to watch, especially a hugely engaging Lennon. Even allowing for the possibility of this being Mirahmadi’s debut script, this talented actor has been around enough scripts to know better. Mirahmadi needs to be as rigorous on the page as his performances are on screen and stage. For by the end of "The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill" you’re eager to say goodbye to the hill.
"The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill” by Mack Mirahmadi, presented by Pollywog Theatre Collective, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until July 6.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre.