The Heart of the City
The death of a pub. The death the singsong. The death the docks and one much loved docker. In Dermot Bolger’s "Last Orders at the Dockside," a family of working class heroes descend on the Dockside Bar for one last singsong and some final farewells. As the men reminisce and reluctantly prepare for dark days ahead, the women, and Johnny Logan, are only too eager to embrace the future. An overdose of sentimentality directed in Capracorn colours, "Last Orders at the Dockside" looses sight of the very truth it’s seeking in a wash of ill gotten nostalgia. With intermittent history's notes being passed off as memory, it soon comes adrift in a sea of manhandled details drowning a great story trying hard to be heard. All viewed through the woke tinted lenses of the twenty-first century, which see much more from now than from then.
Like Lee Coffey’s impressive In Our Veins, "Last Orders at the Dockside" deals in vanished men, a murder, and secrets from the past as a family gather at a funeral for a well respected docker. Yet where Coffey ambitiously conveyed the dock’s warts and all history, "Last Orders at the Dockside" compresses it into cozy, chatty soundbites, polishing the edges of the docker’s day to day lives. Even the much loved, pub rock singsong feels polished, as does much of the sanitised Dublin humour, though Bolger does have some memorable moments in this regard. Like a child running in chain mail, "Last Orders at the Dockside" accelerates momentarily in places as a fantastic story finds its feet. Before being weighed down and tripping over itself as another tidbit of docker memorabilia is shoehorned in with unsubtle obviousness. Revealing the docks in 1980 from a very skewed angle, sometimes hitting the target, sometimes not, and leaving too much left unsaid.
A sterling cast prove to be "Last Orders at the Dockside's" salvation. Lisa Lambe as the could have been a contender, Cathy, is compelling as a woman wanting more than the dockers world of pubs and parenthood, delivering an extraordinarily moving rendition of Fiddler’s Green. An acerbic Bríd Ní Nechtain is flawless as the quintessential Dublin mother, Maisie. Juliette Crosbie, no slouch when it comes to carrying a tune, not that she gets the chance here, delightfully captures Ireland’s educated youth facing firmly towards a different future in her conflicted Lyn. Played against a sterling Stephen Jones, cornering the market in vulnerable tough men, who might just give her pause for thought. Trapped between the past and the future, Jones shines throughout, especially in a duelling duet with his older brother, union man Sean, an engaging and vastly underused Aidan Kelly, who spends most of his time propping up the bar. Or on the phone, where many are conveniently consigned when having nothing to do. An impressive Anthony Brophy as Alfie, a good man in a bad situation trying to live by his code, becomes the lynchpin it all revolves around. Jimmy Smallhorne’s mysterious Ray, steeped in beer and cigarette stains, adds some much needed, old world texture. Terri O’Neill’s boo and hiss, Macker, a cartoonish baddie highlighting the effects of heroin hitting the city in the 1980s, also speaks to another road taken into Dublin’s complex future.
Under Graham McLaren’s lopsided direction, awkwardly juggling a cracking story and inserted soundbites, Bolger’s text never really fires up to the same degree as the songs, of which only a few really ignite. Throughout, music plays a significant roll in juxtaposing the times that were with times as they are, as new songs compete against songs far older. If singsong scenes galvanise proceedings, Ray Harman’s one note composition, hovering like a guilty conscience, leaves much to be desired. Indeed, it’s left to Alyson’s Cummin’s set and Paul Keogan’s lights to capture a culture and a time as the light declines, which both do superlatively.
Once upon a time Dublin’s docks were the heart of the city. Today Dublin’s docklands might have risen into some garish glass phoenix, but something vital got buried beneath the Luas Lines, with many of its people scattered to the four corners of beyond. Less On The Waterfront and more like The Waltons, "Last Orders at the Dockside" pays tribute to a people of a place and time. Yet in trying to be all things to all dockers, it trades in the easy nostalgia of farewell at the expense of its far more revealing story, while also leaving a lot unsaid. Even so, "Last Orders at the Dockside" strikes some poignant and heartfelt chords as its sterling cast bid the dockside a fond farewell.
"Last Orders at the Dockside" by Dermot Bolger, an Abbey Theatre production commissioned by Dublin Port, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 at the Abbey Theatre until Oct 26.
For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 or the Abbey Theatre.