Rex Ryan and Clelia Murphy in Stephen Jones's Summerhill. Image uncredited.
Julian Kavanagh. A 30-year-old Mammy's Boy who makes Norman Bates look positively normal. No surprise given manipulative Mam, Bernie. Wheelchair-bound, in the loosest sense of the word, Bernie has had a hard, heartbreaking life and could die at any minute. Just ask her, she'll tell you. Her only joys the music of Tom Jones, her devoted son Julian, and an impending holiday to Tenerife, the final e not silent, just to soon as they fill up the swear jar. Given that the mysterious Carla Clara has entered the scene, vying for Julian's affections, that shouldn't take too long. Providing someone doesn't kill someone else first. In Summerhill, Stephen Jones journeys down some twisted byways, serving up a suspenseful comedy as dark as it is delicious. Asking the question, could this be a love to die for? Or to kill for?
Like Jones' From Eden and Northern Star, Summerhill centres around an awkward boy meeting an awkward girl in an awkward situation. Only here the awkwardness is ratcheted through the roof. Julian, a man trying to cut the umbilical cord, has lost over ten stone in the past two years. No longer the Sumo of Summerhill, he braves a date with the gorgeous Clara and it's love at first fright. Like Julian, Clara loves real life crime stories and is a devotee of Murder She Podcasted. She too is looking for a fresh start, and has her secrets. Yet the path of true love never ran smooth. If conflict arises when want meets obstacle, the obstacle to be contended with is a foul mouthed, feisty, forty-seven year old floozy called Bernie Kavanagh. Otherwise known as Mam. A woman possessed by dark thoughts, dark memories and darker desires. And a tongue that could strip paint.
Summerhill at Glass Mask Theatre. Image by Chris O'Rourke
While leaning heavily into Psycho and Bate's Motel, Jones script stands as a thing of its own due to its rich vein of dark, Dublin humour. With Jones proving himself adept at structuring a genuinely suspenseful thriller. Impressively balancing the plays comedic needs with its darker dramatic elements without losing cohesion or looking contrived. Jones also proving himself to be no slouch as director. Indeed, the manner in which space is negotiated, aside from the seats right by the door, to realise the theatrical possibilities inherent in the script proves remarkably impressive.
With it all brought vividly to life by three crowning performances. Rex Ryan's troubled Julian is superbly nuanced and beautifully portrayed; at times heartbroken, vulnerable, wildly in love or desperately lonely. Evanne Kilgallon proves frighteningly good as the Nordie from Summerhill in Omagh, giving a detailed performance as misfit Clara, whose quirkiness makes demands on credibility which Kilgallon negotiates with aplomb. Yet both play second fiddle to a show stealing Clelia Murphy as Bernie, a venomous heartache of a mother for whom love has become a twisted thing. Murphy being a tour de force. And given the calibre of Ryan and Kilgallon's excellent performances, that's no mean feat.
A dark, demented, laugh out loud delight, Summerhill invites you to take a walk on the dark side. And you should. You most certainly should. Oh, and try the smoked almonds while you're over there. They're to die for. A little like Summerhill. So good, you'll want to see it twice.
Summerhill, written and directed by Stephen Jones, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until Nov 27.
For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre.