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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Cloud Spotter

Brenda Brooks, Deirdre Monaghan, Callum Maxwell in The Cloud Spotter. Image Kevin Newcomen


Fair City meets Harold and Maude in Michael J. Harnett’s The Cloud Spotter. A bittersweet slice of inner city life in which two souls search for a sense of family. Teenage tearaway Thomas, sporting a chip so large you could land an aircraft on it, has problems processing his mother’s death. A thief on probation, he’s presumed to be up to no good whenever he disappears from school, or heads to Wicklow allegedly working on a movie. His grandmother, Nan, sees only the good in him. Or refuses to see the bad. Making excuses for Thomas to her daughter Annie who's suspicious about the boxes collecting in the hallway. Especially as Nan isn’t the sharpest tack in this world of missing wallets and burnt kettles. Likely to need more than Sonny Knowles songs to take care of her cares now early stage dementia is setting in.

A meditation on ageing, family and the generational divide, Harnett highlights an aspect of working class life more common than is often acknowledged. Namely, the matriarchal role in the life of the young being filled by their grandmother. Which Harnett turns his searing yet loving gaze upon, revealing an unconditional love so blind it borders on martyrdom. Steeped in soap opera tropes, The Cloud Spotter’s episodic scenes gambol along, even as Harnett’s script raises more questions than it ever satisfactorily answers, right up to the bittersweet finale. Yet story plays second fiddle in The Cloud Spotter to its characters. Whose individual and familial dysfunctions are underscored by love, all realised by the playwright’s loving attention.

Deirdre Monaghan as Nan in The Cloud Spotter. Image Kevin Newcomen

If performances don’t always look fully nailed down, with some cast members looking uneasy with eye contact, under Vinnie McCabe’s direction the overall sense is of a cohesive chemistry working wonderfully well. Brenda Brooks as Ann is remarkable as a young woman trying to do the right things. Relative newbie Callum Maxwell as the troubled Thomas might seem less assured at times, but he hits some fine moments that ring true with promise. But The Cloud Spotter is all about Deirdre Monaghan, breathtaking as a woman unequal parts loving, annoying, old school and new dawns. Whose brain, and hips, might be fading, but whose heart beats strong.

Conor McCague’s set might maximise the space, but it does so unimaginatively, looking cramped and clumsily constructed, his functional lights never exploiting their full possibilities. But in the presence of a captivating Monaghan you don’t really care about what could be improved on. The Cloud Spotter might have its head in the clouds at times, but its heart rings true. A true little gem of a production, with Monaghan simply mesmerising.

The Cloud Spotter by Michael J. Harnett, a production by The Five Lamps Arts Festival in association with Dublin Regional Theatre Company, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until February 4.

For more information visit Bewley’s Café Theatre


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