- Chris O'Rourke
Leper + Chip
Conall Keating and Amilia Stewart Keating in Leper + Chips. Image from stream.
When normality returns and this Covid nightmare leaves us with few fond memories, should someone decided to give awards to those who showed resilience over and above, Mark O'Brien and the team at Axis Ballymun must be serious contenders. Whether it's Axis Chats, Axis Bootleg Series, their artist initiatives and continuous planning, this small venue with a big heart, and bigger ambitions, has refused to let Covid knock it off its feet. Indeed, from a certain angle, it seems busier than ever, enhancing its reputation as a venue where artists can thrive and grow. Artists such as Lee Coffey, whose own reputation is again enhanced with an excellent remount by Axis Ballymun of his debut play Leper + Chip as part of Dublin Port Company's The Pumphouse Presents.
Originally produced in 2014 by the inimitable Karl Shiels and the incomparable Laura Honan at Theatre Upstairs, Leper + Chip revealed Coffey as an up and coming writer to be watched. An assessment shown to be wholly justified with his staggeringly brilliant follow up, A Murder of Crows in 2016. Since then Coffey's star has been in the ascendent, and justifiably so. Reuniting original cast members Conall Keating as Leper and Amilia Stewart, now Amilia Stewart Keating, as Chip, Coffey's two hander has now become a family affair and, then as now, benefits immensely from its two stars natural chemistry and dynamism.
Not that early signs are encouraging. Feeling like Howie The Rookie's less literate cousin, Coffey's alternating monologues by two damaged, Dublin souls can border on poverty porn in places. Connecting across a crowded room of normalised violence and nicknames, Coffey's little ditty about Karl and Siobhan sees the Leper looking to get laid and trying to hook up with Chip whose looking to stir up a little chaos. As mayhem ensues, a rollercoaster of batterings and beatings follows till it all feels painfully familiar. Yet it's the cracks where the lights shines in that show Coffey's true strength. He may not play hugely with rhymes but he's a master of pace and rhythm, cranking the intensity and energy to near breaking point. Structurally clever, for the most part, Coffey can play with alliteration and verbal mirroring to establish intimate connections where none appear to exist. A sublime reversal near the midway mark and everything becomes wonderfully fresh and deliciously charged due, in no small measure, to the electricity between its two stars. If events catapult towards their tragic and violent end a little too quickly, conveniently, and a shade unconvincingly, the interplay between Conall Keating and Amilia Stewart Keating has already won you over and blissfully broken your heart.
Part of the rich legacy of the late Karl Shiels, whose top class direction infuses every second on stage, Leper + Chip delivers an intensely energised forty-five minutes that is not to be missed. Brought superbly to screen by Laura Honan, Francois Gray, and Coffey himself.
Leper + Chip by Lee Coffey premieres online till 8:00 pm, Sunday, November 29 for premiere ticket holders. It will run as part of Dublin Port Company's The Pumphouse Presents from December 19 to December 23. A ticketed event, it will be available online free of charge as a gift from Dublin Port. Donations will be accepted towards a new artist development fund to be managed by Axis Ballymun.
For more on this and other shows in The Pumphouse Presents, which features work from ANU, Fishamble: The New Play Company, and Axis Ballymun, go to Axis Ballymun or Dublin Port Company.