An Accumulation of Lost Moments
At their old, teenage clubhouse Pa lies unconscious on the floor as Cusack and Barry arrive separately. The portentous arrival of a tray of beer confirms alcohol will have a part to play in what follows. Alongside some regular hits of Speed and a smattering of MDMA. Classic devices for allowing men be vulnerable while not appearing unmanly. Permitting them to cry, confess, or otherwise break down in front of their mates. In John O’Donovan’s latest play “Flights," three thirty something, rural males skate in and out of their Celtic Tiger adolescence. Taking far too long to say far too little when even less was what they really should have said.
Lost in the sound of its own voice, "Flights" finds the past proving marginally more interesting than its onstage present. A present in which Pa, Barry, and Cusack have gathered in their old hangout to remember, or misremember, Liam. An annual ritual to commemorate their friend's untimely death at seventeen. Their immediate concerns amounting to Cusack's infant son’s first crawl, Barry’s girlfriend cheating on him as they get ready to depart for London, and the homeless Pa looking for somewhere to stay and a reference for a shelf packing job in Tesco. A slim skeleton with slimmer stakes, lacking enough of interest to be a story where nothing happens, the onus switches to darts, drinking games and drugs as we eavesdrop on the worse reunion ever. One where they competitively flaunt the overlapping miseries of their half lived lives. Discussing girlfriends, stories, the past more than the future and, on the rare occasion, Liam.
If O’Donovan’s superb If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You captured the vagaries and vanities affecting modern rural males, it did so with far more finesse than is on display here, despite some promising moments. Built around three scenes broken by three monologues, descriptions and backstories pile endlessly on top of each other creating little of substance worth really sinking your teeth into, narratively or thematically. Something director Thomas Martin fails to get to grips with. For like the lives of its characters, "Flights" becomes an accumulation of lost moments buried under mountains of detail crushing everything down. Including several potent moments lost to nervous pace. Particularly during the first act, which gallops along like a bout of frayed nerves. Similarly Zia Bergin Holly’s overworked lighting and an uncredited sound design, elbowing oppressively into the frame like embarrassed parents eager to make up for their under performing child. With Naomi Faughan’s disappointing set pushing everyone to the heavily littered front where there’s little room to move. Leaving Martin compositionally floundering much of the time, even if his drunken moment of togetherness proves to be a stroke of genius. If Faughnan’s wing like sides are intended to offer some type of symbolic framing, particularly during monologues, they, along with the rest of the set, miss the mark by some considerable distance.
Throughout, Colin Campbell’s Barry, Rhys Dunlop’s Pa, and Conor Madden’s Cusack tax the audience with endless backstory, description, and exposition, interrupted by the occasional good joke. Each taking turns to monologue as Liam, serving as a sidebar to the past with all the disassociated presence of an afterthought. If Barry and Cusack are men led by their women, Dunlop’s Pa is the carefree and careless teenager they each left behind. Pa serving up endless provocations designed to lacerate emotionally, then acting like he’s doing you a favour. All made convincingly engaging by a committed Dunlop. As is Campbell’s gormless Barry and Madden’s adulting Cusack, with Madden’s performance growing impressively in stature as the play progresses. Not so his monologue, but all three are guilty in that regard. Something O’Donovan’s overworked script must take some responsibility for. Never more so than during the final monologue as it works unsuccessfully towards an emotional big finish, spinning off into theories of other dimensions as you’re waiting for Liam to die. Which might well have you wishing, by this stage, that his end would come half an hour ago.
In “Flights,” economy is a word O’Donovan seems to have forgotten, offering in excess of two hours of over indulgent dialogue that says little while characters do comparatively less. What "Flights" does have of value drowns in a tar bath of numbing description serving nothing other than itself. Which is a shame, for there’s ideas here and three fascinating characters trying hard to get out. Something everyone involved has shown elsewhere they're more than capable of doing. "Flights" might aim high, but it never really takes off, leaving you sitting on the runaway wishing ‘if only.’
"Flights" by John O’Donovan, presented by One Duck, runs at The Project Arts Centre until February 8th.
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre.