Hymn to Him
Feargal, from Cork, is an alcoholic. The child of alcoholics, it’s all he’s ever wanted to be. But he’s grand, really. Outside of risking wet brain, his crushed self esteem, being a victim of domestic violence, and not being able to get through the day without a can in his hand. But come Christmas he’s going to turn it all around and go on a fun run with the turkey. He may even sing with the choir in front of his ex, Katie Taylor. In Tadhg Hickey’s heartfelt "In One Eye, Out The Other," running as part of First Fortnight after a hugely successful run at Dublin Fringe, a surreal journey through one man’s mind serves up some insightful perspectives on alcoholism and mental health. Yet if its mental health credentials are impeccable, theatrically it soon becomes troubled. Not least for having an identity crisis that pulls it in two opposing directions.
With Feargal chronicling his life via episodic scenes, Hickey’s script more often resembles a stand up routine aspiring to be a show, with its timing off kilter in places for not being quite sure where to land. Steeped in 80s movie references and a penchant for Irish women sporting heroes, Feargal makes his confessions rooted to the spot, his arms occasionally opened wide in obvious crucifixion. One of many intentional Catholic references employed throughout. Delivered with a one toned, Ardal O’Hanlan styled, downplayed matter of factness, Hickey stories flip words and ideas to create unexpected, humorous connections, with most landing the safe side of smirk worthy. Yet Hickey’s underplayed, comedic dryness has a serious undertone, cleverly highlighting the normalisation that often tries to downplay problems inherent in alcoholism and mental illness.
Visually, it was a slack day at the office for director, John McCarthy, and set and lighting designer, Eoin Winning, each ensuring there’s very little of visual substance going in either eye. Until the final section, which holds them both to account as Hickey is released from a constraining, physical minimalism to terrific effect. A minimalism that might align well with the final twist in the tale, but often looks unimaginative for loosing far more than might have been gained had Hickey been free to play. If the depressiveness of many alcohol related movies and shows is avoided for the most part, a poignant ending makes up for it in spades. As well as teasing out some subtle theatrics that only serve to highlight what could have been had "In One Eye, Out The Other" leaned more solidly in favour of the visuals of staging rather than the verbals of the stand up routine.
Revealing humour as a defence mechanism, "In One Eye, Out The Other" addresses alcoholism in a direct, if ultimately surreal manner. Given Hickey's comedic background, and his own personal struggles, this semi-confessional approach isn’t too surprising. What might surprise is Hickey’s impressive singing and songwriting. Like a remixed Cantique de Jean Racine, played on Santo and Johnny 50s styled, rock ’n’ roll guitars, the hymn-like In One Eye, Out The Other, composed by Hickey and Brian Lane, is a genuine treat. Allowing Feargal the fantasist with his verbal flips to wear his heart on his sleeve. And a deeply personable Hickey to make his bright man with the painted on smile deeply engaging in what is a smart, moving, and often sharply funny production.
"In One Eye, Out The Other" by Tadhg Hickey, presented by CCCahoots, runs as part of First Fortnight, at Smock Alley Theatre until January 11.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre.