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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Five Lamps

Eoin O'Sullivan in The Five Lamps. Image uncredited.


Over the past sixteen years The Five Lamps Arts Festival, a community based arts festival for Dublin’s north east inner city, has seen its reputation go from strength to strength. Likewise Roddy Doyle's recent forays into theatre, ranging from the workable (Peter Pan) to the exceptional (The Snapper). Alas, director Joe O’Byrne’s adaptation of Doyle's story The Five Lamps from Doyle’s 2021 collection Life Without Children comes up short in this co-production with Co-Motion Media. For despite O’Byrne’s clear affection for Dublin what emerges is a long trudge through a sketch of a city undertaken by an even less sketched character. The whole saved courtesy of a sensitively winning performance by Eoin O’Sullivan, and a scene stealing cameo by young Sunni Doody.

2020. The first days of Covid lockdown. As Paddy’s Day gets cancelled and the world sought to put a social distance between everyone, a lone father sets out to get close to his son. Driving to Dublin despite the 5km limit, he finds himself in a deserted, dystopian landscape looking for a son who left home four years previous. A man with no name seeking a son with no name who ran away after a wife with no name left them in a town with no name. Trudging daily from Clontarf to Heuston Station, he remembers when he himself lived in the city, divulges scant hints about his past, then rinses and repeats until the end arrives. An end so convenient and twee even the Hallmark Channel wouldn’t buy it.

Aspiring to be a love letter to Dublin, O’Byrne’s adaptation is more a badly written postcard left out in the rain where the good stuff got smudged till it looks like it was redacted. Scumbag junkies with hearts of gold, big hearted bread men, dog walkers and wise young girls so cliched they become cloying. There to add colour to a father’s search that, geographically, makes little to no sense. In which asinine observations of a changing city omit more than they include. Such as the history, culture and communities surrounding the Five Lamps. Where the ghosts of Spenser Avenue, Jane Place, St Laurence's Mansions, St Bridget's Gardens and Phil Shanahan House haunt the shadows of St. Laurence O’Toole’s Church. The streets here little more than a methadone clinic. If that’s a commentary on the times, it’s one that doesn’t paint the full picture.

Interrupting selective observations, a tale of a father seeking redemption and reconnection sees his wide eyed memories of his time in Dublin offset by descriptions of his geographically bizarre journey. Thankfully Eoin O’Sullivan’s masterfully restrained performance, and nicely managed accents, offset several textual and theatrical problems. Including lights that play guesswork as to where they’ll illuminate next. Or Warren McCarthy’s bafflingly jolly score, like a tacky advertising jingle, evoking the same emotional impact as a nursery rhyme at a funeral. Similarly Conor McCague and Annabel Konig’s set, a domed tent and a small grey wall evocative of homelessness and little else. On which occasional projections are accompanied by half heard voice overs.

With The Five Lamps never developing character beyond a sentimental trope, nor the city beyond unflatteringly flat observations, it’s hard to connect beyond a superficial level. Yet there are moments of connection courtesy of a hard working O’Sullivan, endlessly walking on the spot. If Sunni Doody charmingly steals it near the final scene, you suspect O’Sullivan is happy to let her have the limelight. The Five Lamps tries represent its local communities. People often poorly represented or misrepresented. If it doesn’t quite do them justice here, its heart is in the right place. Reminding you why festivals like The Five Lamps Arts Festival are crucially important.

The Five Lamps by Joe O’Byrne, adapted from the story by Roddy Doyle, presented by The Five Lamps Arts Festival and Co-Motion Media, runs at The Civic Theatre before transferring to Liberty Hall.

Civic Theatre, Tallaght - March 12 - 14

Liberty Hall, Dublin 1 - March 22 - 23

For more information visit The Five Lamps Arts Festival


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