- Chris O'Rourke
Country and Irish
Peter Gowen in Patrick McCabe's Country and Irish. Image Brian Cregan
With Patrick McCabe's Country and Irish don't take the story literally. Don't take anything literally. Not the Longford mafia, stories told by the Catholic church, the conventions of film noir, and especially not the promises of Celtic Tiger Ireland. All savagely subverted in the lively times of Donie Burris. Clutching the end of his rope, his dead mother's apron strings, his strained friendship with gangster Gerry Munroe, and his live-in lover Magda, Donie is getting ready to go out with a bang.
Why his rope is fraying isn't entirely clear. Maybe Magda did betray his sexual peccadillo to the villainous Gerry, but it's hard to be certain. Similarly that whole thing about property developments that went belly up when the crash came. Leaving Donie owing Gerry quite a bit of money. Why? You're never entirely sure. And the longer it goes on, the less you care. McCabe's muddled story coming in a disappointing second in Country and Irish. Way behind its delicious character study of a man toppling close to the edge. McCabe's absurd tragic-comedy brought to life in a crowning performance by Peter Gowen, making for an unforgettable encounter.
More so if you get the dated in-jokes. McCabe's clever subversions of film noir working better if you appreciate the Raymond Chandler, smoky jazz detective tropes, and know who fellow sap Walter Neff is. To whom Donie is recording his last will and testament. Similarly, associations with Country and Irish as a musical sub genre, a fusion of American country music with Irish influences. Or the bad old days of holy Catholic Ireland. Both exploited to hilarious effect. Even if many references sing to an older choir, apt to be less appreciated by a contemporary audience.
If its muddled plot saps Country and Irish of much of its force, its close encounter of the curious kind proves a sheer delight. For the Duracell Bunny has nothing on Gowen, whose energised performance as the desperate Donie is jaw dropping to behold. Rage, frustration, fantasy, fear, Gowen's rigorous detail and exquisite timing look naturally effortless; Gowen slipping between characters in Donie's universe with convincing ease. Conor Hanratty's direction keeping the brilliant Gowen on course, his sound design adding depth and atmosphere. As does Eoin Lennon's light, occassionally working a little too clunkily and drawing unwanted attention to itself. Especially the end which shows a lack of imagination, leaving the brilliantly conceived big finish to fizzle out somewhat. Medb Lambert's sparse set proves competent if never thrilling, even as Gowen makes use of every ingredient to terrific effect.
The tragic in McCabe's comedy is its dependence on older, insider trading and a story lacking a satisfying set up. Yet what's comic in McCabe's tragedy forgives it much. As does Gowen, who almost forgives it everything. Like a Midlands McDonagh, McCabe tells a wild story rich in pathos and the pathetic, with a generous showing of violence. If Country and Irish lands in a place that seems too old to be new yet too new to be old, its laughs are irresistibly McCabe. Full of his raw, earthy, wild eyed, heathen energy. Wrapped in a performance that is simply glorious.
Country and Irish by Patrick McCabe, presented by Flght2Flight Theatre Company in association with Smock Alley Theatre, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until April 9.
For more information visit Smock Alley Theatre.