Straight to Video
Straight to Video by Emmet Kirwan. Photo by Pat Redmond
Straight to video. A derogatory term from the 1980s denoting a film unsuitable for mainstream cinema. Many such films garnering a cultish devotion due to their poor production values, crappy stories and larger than life characters. Videos so bad they were almost good. If ever a play came close to straight to video mode, it would be Emmet Kirwan's Straight To Video.
Like comedic Grand Guignol, Straight To Video relies on over the top excess. Take Kirwan's video store owner, Barry, a man with a plan but without a clue. Strutting about like a poor man's Robbie Williams looking like a caricature of an impression of Del Boy. His troubled video store on the verge of closure. Enter the Coach, an imposing Stephen Brennan as a gangster who, with his nutcase son Ken, a convincing Lloyd Cooney, has a little package for Barry to mind. Given Straight To Video is set around an anti-drugs march, there's no brain power required guessing what's in the package. Not that Kirwan keeps us guessing. Or makes Tallaght somewhere you'd ever want to set foot in, let alone live there.
Emmet Kirwan and Stephen Brennan in Straight to Video. Photo by Pat Redmond
Meanwhile his long suffering staff, like extras from Empire Records, negotiate their own difficulties and the daily struggles of running a video rental no-one wants to rent videos from. Their only customer Callan Cummins' Pierco, a village idiot with a heart of gold and more smarts than most realise. Colin Campbell's Carl, the shop manager and a gay man tiring of the closet, finds himself confronted by love from an unexpected source. While Kate Gilmore's Claire, surrounded by men who need a mammy, a maid, or a shoulder to cry on, struggles to deal with her dying mother.
As things progress, it quickly becomes clear that while Kirwan is a gifted performance poet, when it comes to out and out comedy it's quite a different story. Everything that makes his poetry thrilling, and which comedy needs, is absent here; economy, rhythm, timing. Relying instead on exaggeration till exaggeration becomes the content. Delivering too few funny one liners or situationally funny incidents, the script awash with too much comedic dead air. Overcompensating with energy so loud and high it has nowhere to go. If director Phillip McMahon's writing often shows restraint, his direction here suggests the lunatics took over the asylum while his back was turned. Looking like he also had an easy day at the office, Philip Connaughton's movement relies on an inordinate amount of leaping on or over the counter. Part of Grace Smarts beautifully detailed set, a mix of nostalgia and realism, superbly lit by Sinéad McKenna.
Colin Campbell and Emmet Kirwin Straight to Video. Photo by Pat Redmond
If performances show poor comic timing, Kate Gilmore clearly didn’t get the memo, or wisely tore it up. Gilmore understanding that if you play for laughs you probably won't get them, making her by far the best thing on stage. Surpassed, marginally, by a vivacious Derbhle Crotty as Denise, conveniently wedged in as a kind of fairy godmother to help wrap things up, channelling Time Cop and Weird Science. Practically a national treasure, Crotty gives performances that can blow everyone else off the stage, and often show up the cracks in those who aren't quite cutting the mustard.
Like the films of Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau, or Cynthia Rothrock, Straight To Video will find an audience. Even if everyone else will wonder why anyone would want to produce a play in the style of a third rate movie? One whose situation isn't particularly funny, nor are its characters, and relies too much on verbal gags and nostalgia for laughs. More importantly, why it never pushes at its own possibilities? For all its imagined wildness, Straight To Video delivers an extremely conventional play that never goes anywhere all that interesting, comedically or otherwise. Leaning not so much on the side of caution as cowering behind it. Wood and Wiseau believed they were making genuinely good movies. Kirwan, despite having so much scope to play with, plays it safe in trying to craft an enjoyably funny play with a happy ever after. And Straight to Video is enjoyable and funny. Just not as enjoyable, funny or as wildly adventurous as it seems to think it is.
Straight to Video, by Emmet Kirwan, printed by Landmark Productions in association with The Civic and Project Arts Centre, runs at The Project Arts Centre till December 11.