Irene Kelleher in Wake. Image uncredited
In Wake, Irene Kelleher's one woman comedy, Lily is waking her recently deceased mother. Learning, along the way, that people grieve in different ways and that what you need is often right in front of you. Interspersed, some lightweight incidents and lots of character sketches, along with tonnes of food and tea, playfully satirise rural communities. Yet even as the limo pulls up, there's far too little going on in a tale where the wheels turn but the narrative never really gets going. Still, if Wake is not quite the satisfying meal, it makes for scrumptious tapas. Delivering a generous amount of laughs on the way to an emotional big finish.
Not least the aforementioned limo scene, hilarious in its simplicity. Then there's Michael, Lily's childhood admirer, all muscled out into captain of the hurling team. Enough to encourage Lily to don her slut top and channel her inner mean girl as shocked relatives gasp is dismay. Yet despite it being all about her, Lily never really shines till near the end, operating as a kind of MC to a proverbial cast of thousands. Like walk-ons or extras from Halls Pictorial Weekly, most are sketched caricatures more than characters. Yet none of Cork's Gatsby crowd come anywhere close to the richness of Lily, even as they hog the limelight. Oddballs full of idiosyncrasies and eccentricities passing themselves off as normal. Well, it is Cork after all.
In Wake, Kelleher shines on account of her performance. Not just her impressive comic versatility and timing, but when Lily opens her heart. Or closes it in this instance; Lily unable to enter the room where her mother is laid out. When Lily's heart gets torn and tongue tied, when she will do anything to avoid the pain, Kelleher, deftly directed by Geoff Gould, can make you cringe with empathy or break your heart. Making it a shame that Lily gets lost in Kelleher's crowd. Davy Dummigan's six lectern set, looking prop heavy at times, adds a touch of the funerial to some clever theatrically efficiency. Not so Cormac O'Connor's constant sound and video design, which proves permanently distracting. Like an annoying child constantly clamouring for your attention while you're desperately trying to listen to its mother.
Compared to Kelleher's Mary and Me and Gone Full Havisham, Wake feels conservative and transitional. As if Kelleher is feeling out new horizons but hasn't quite arrived at the new shore yet. For a writer who usually goes deep, Wake finds Kelleher skating the observational surface. Her ham sandwiches and Done Deals showing Kelleher is at her comedic best when trusting her unique originality. Like Murder on the Orient Express without the murder, Wake sees a lot of half drawn characters parading around in the absence of something substantial to latch on to. Of course, there's always Poirot. Or, in this case, Kelleher. Who lights up any stage she graces with a performance worth the price of admission. Housing productions like Wake, The Viking Theatre keep new Irish writing vital. They don't ask for charity, only your support. Get out and support what is a touching and funny production in one of the city's most welcoming venues.
Wake by Irene Kelleher, runs at The Viking Theatre until November 19.
For more information, visit The Viking Theatre