Let’s get the hard part over with. "24 Hours From Tulsk" is Michael O’Sullivan’s debut script. Which might suggest a degree of leniency for O’Sullivan, who shows some comic talent at times. Until you factor in O’Sullivan’s extensive stage experience. Developed as part of Irish Theatre Institute’s Prime Programme for artists over 55, "24 Hours From Tulsk" sees O’Sullivan deliver a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from 70s styled sketches. One which, if it occasionally crackles with dated hilarity, never sparks with the fullness of life.
In O’Sullivan’s sketch-like script, Ruby Dench, or is that Ruby Wax, or Ruby Tuesday, had her fifteen minutes of fame during a season of Red Rock. Or is that Red Rum? Or Red Bull? Doesn’t matter: it’s a name-play gag that overplays its hand in search of easy laughs. If one or two prove genuinely hilarious, more often they raise a smirk rather than a giggle: as does much of “24 Hours From Tulsk.” Like Feargal, the gormless oaf who enjoyed his own fifteen-seconds of TV infamy many years ago. Conveniently meeting Ruth with all the credibility of a Dick Emery sketch, they agree to meet again in Roscommon. Where we meet Feargal’s self serving, money grubbing psychiatrist, Doctor Phil, and his pervy stepson, Murty. As all three set off in pursuit of Ruby, ably assisted by viagra, money, and pheromones, who, if any, will finally win her affections?
Up to its neck in faithful reconstructions of 70s styled sketch humour, often of the naughty postcard variety, "24 Hours From Tulsk" is never developed enough to be steeped in real retro charm, clever enough to offer hilarious insights, or strong enough to be something of its own. Instead, under director Elyn Friedrichs, "24 Hours From Tulsk" risks leaving much of the audience begging for less. Showing all the finesse of a childrens pantomime directed by children, Friedrichs’ pacing and physical movement sequences, as distinct from Aideen Gohery’s choreography, would have looked dated back in the 1970s, which they neither celebrate nor poke fun at. They just mimic, poorly, often looking like bad outtakes from a sketch sending up silent movies. If O’Sullivan’s script takes a ‘throw enough gags and something will stick approach,’ several do. Enough to warrant wondering what could have been with more rigour. Others though feel weak and overstated or under developed; shoe-horned in or lost in too much poorly handled exposition; as if lifted from the reject pile for The Morecambe and Wise Show.
Indeed, Morecambe and Wise’s legendary sketches from the 70s, wherein the two comedians would frequently play off a renowned guest actress, replete with a song and dance routine (again overplayed here), provide the structural template for "24 Hours From Tulsk". Three awkwardly over the top performances by Séamus Moran as the inept Feargal, Brendan Conroy as the salacious and seedy Dr. Phil, and Niall O’Brien doing a leering, wide eyed facial impression suggesting a bearded Benny Hill, duly follow the formula. As does Deirdre Monaghan as their love interest. Only Monaghan, looking genuinely vivacious, shows real comic depth and range at times as the girl all the bad boys want, even if they’re the kind of bad boys nobody wants. Yet even the divine Monaghan isn’t enough to save it all, even if she does carry the lions share of what keeps "24 Hours From Tulsk" focused.
As a piece of nonsense comic theatre, "24 Hours From Tulsk" leaves a lot to be desired; built on a formula that’s been done before and done far better. If, like Marmite, there are some who will enjoy the old school laughs "24 Hours From Tulsk" occasionally raises, even many of the converted will find it hard to swallow. For this trip down memory lane does indeed trip comedically, then stumble, and often falls, delivering a weak script with occasionally strong gags built around a poor idea poorly directed. Begging the question of who thought this show was ready for production. As writers like Seamus O’Rourke have repeatedly shown, works for older characters referencing the past can be insightful, hilarious, and irresistible, and written and produced to an exacting standard. O’Sullivan has promise, but "24 Hours From Tulsk" still has a long way to go.
"24 Hours From Tulsk" by Michael O’Sullivan, presented by Red Raven Theatre Company, runs at The Viking Theatre until July 27.
For more information, visit Viking Theatre