Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Somewhere Out There You
Danielle Galligan, Eimear Keating and Lise-Ann McLaughlin in Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
Theatre. Where magic happens. Occasionally. The Abbey Theatre’s production of Nancy Harris’s comedy Somewhere Out There You creating magic more than just occasionally. Its interrogation of the Romantic Comedy really a love letter to theatre. Not just on stage, but the theatrics of everyday life; the costuming, the drama, the performances. Enacting stories to give our selves meaning. Love stories filled with hope, regret, desire, and the belief our life will be complete in our true love’s arms. Even as truth lies not in the stories we sell ourselves, but in the fact that we create stories. That we are authors and performers of our own plays. Able to change the script and be whoever and whatever we want at anytime. Never tied to anyone, any particular story, or any particular self. If we so choose.
Stephen Brennan and Cameron Cuffe in Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
In Somewhere Out There You all the world’s a stage and director Wayne Jordan doesn’t want us to forget it. Stage hands revealing the artificiality of cardboard cut outs, rotating platforms, light rigs frequently ascending or descending. Even the conventional drawing room set, one of many moments of meta-theatrical ingenuity by an overworked Maree Kearn’s, finds itself surrounded by walls of tinsel, suggesting a tacky game show, thereby undermining any attempt at realism. Which hovers in the background, colouring everything, only to be recoloured in the process. Catherine Fay’s costumes, Sinéad McKenna’s lights and Sinéad Diskin’s score and sound design adding Rom Com, Hollywood razzmatazz to Harris’s unconventional tale of boy meets girl. In which the course of true lies never runs smooth and reality can be whatever we want it to be.
Eimear Keating in Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
After a laboured, and arguably unnecessary prologue, we meet the manic depressive Casey and her fiancé Brett, a sensitive American with chiselled chest, charm galore and eyes to loose your soul in. A man who cooks, cleans and landscape gardens when not reciting poetry. Given they only met two weeks ago, Dad Marcus and Mother Pauline are a little skeptical. Cynthia, Casey’s clearly superior sister, is downright suspicious and more than a shade jealous. A blonde having no fun, Cynthia’s insecure husband Eric clearly has issues he needs to deal with. Yet nothing proves quite as it seems as Cynthia digs up the dirt on the theatre loving Brett. Rom Com tropes falling down Harris’s meta-theatrical rabbit hole as secrets, reversals, comeuppances, and the truth setting you free heralds a brave new dawn at a wedding rehearsal. A tidy epilogue linking it all to the past offers a final sprinkle of stardust. Reminding you a play might not always be theatre, but theatre is always about play.
Danielle Galligan in Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
Showing the meta-theatrical awareness of an Our Town, Harris’s Six Characters In Search Of A Romance owes something to Pirandello as much as Wilder. Harris also plundering classic movies, musicals, and even Woody Allen for Rom Com tropes. Love at first sight, secrets and complications, jealousies and break-up and happy every afters aren’t so much flipped on their genre defining heads as given a fresh coat of paint. Under Jordan’s direction, kitsch is never far away, making Somewhere Out There You all the better for it. If you ever wondered what Sex and the City might look like had the city been Dublin, a wonderful song and dance routine answers the question you might regret having asked. Paris, via a similar routine, might be comic, but at least it retains something of the romance. Seagulls, the Spire, a dash in a wedding dress across the Halfpenny bridge sees Dublin looking more comic than romantic. Yet it’s all theatre, darling, the greatest lie of them all. Being also the greatest truth, and greatest teller of truth.
Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
If Harris seeks a safe distance from realism, her characters seem happiest when snuggling up close to it. More comic types or stereotypes, they fit easily into the realist, Rom Com, formulaic frame. Even the most exaggerated set about chewing up the scenery with recognisable aplomb. Stephen Brennan’s scene stealing Sebastian, strugglingly wearily to wield the great sword of theatre, making for a neat comedy double act with Kate Stanley Brennan as his uptight assistant. Paul Reid’s excellent Eric being so hilarious when onstage you wish he would never leave. Danielle Galligan’s self obsessed Cynthia toying at the self-conscious fringes of cheating (playing out to the audience), strikes subtle poses as if playing to an imaginary camera. The media savvy Cynthia always on and in control until she finally looses control. Eimear Keating’s excellent Casey might see the frumpy sister win the day, but like their rivalry over Home and Away, Galligan’s Cynthia steals her thunder with a cracking finish as it all descends into disaster. Cameron Cuffe’s mysterious Brett, the boy all the bad girls want, and maybe even the men, might be a device more than fleshed out character, but Cuffe makes Brett deeply relatable. Lise-Ann McLaughin’s world weary Pauline and Enda Oates’s wife weary Alan offer straight-man support as divorced parents. Who, like Donnacha O’Dea’s ghost writing Dave, and his heart warming Gareth, deliver excellent comic flourishes. Teddy Moore, Jess Kavanagh, Aisling O’Mara, Carley Cullen Walsh and Oscar Clancy rounding at an impressive cast.
Eimear Keating and Cameron Cuffe in Somewhere Out There You. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
If comedy is timing, Somewhere Out There You falls flat at times for taking too long to set up its punchlines, excellent though some of them are. Nor does it always resolve the tensions between Rom Com’s realism and theatre’s artifice. Overstating theatre’s case as a safe refuge for difference its epilogue and prologue hammers it home with an uncharacteristic lack of subtlety. Meaning Somewhere Out There You is not without its issues. But you may not notice for laughing so hard. Hilariously entertaining, with just a dash of romance, Somewhere Out There You is a laugh out loud delight. A perfect first date for hopeless romantics and the romantically hopeless.
Somewhere Out There You by Nancy Harris, presented by The Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2023, continuing until November 4.