The latest instalment in the Paradise Heights series continues the ongoing storyline with style but uneven results. The double bill opens with a radical reworking of the first play in the series I’m Frank Morgan written by, and starring, Joe O’ Byrne.
Although featuring just a single actor - Ian Curley’s direction ensures that this is a play rather than just a monologue. Curley’s direction runs contrary to the script and the result compels the audience to consider the play from a different point of view. O’Byrne’s script shows Frank Morgan as a self-aware villain in the classic mode – enjoying the title of ‘loan shark’ and demanding that the audience share his twisted view of the world.
But Curley sets the play with Frank shambling uncertainly around a run-down tenement -hardly the high life described in the script- and shapes O’Byrne’s performance accordingly. Although the play is in the style of a monologue it is not delivered as such. Indeed, O’ Byrne plays Frank as if ashamed and goes to some lengths to avoid looking directly at the audience spending much of the play in profile or looking off into the middle distance.
The impression forms of a man in dire straits desperately, perhaps even pathetically, trying to reassure himself that he retains his status. In an effort to show that he has some control at one point he re-starts one anecdote three times with slight variations being unsatisfied that it fits his recollection.
I’m Frank Morgan is a play of such quality that it can survive a fundamental re-interpretation and yet retain its original power and become a more theatrical experience.
The second part of the bill, the film The Watcher, is less successful. On Halloween residents of the Paradise Heights estate are forced off the streets by feral teens. The few souls who brave the streets are haunted by the smell of burnt flesh and a mysterious silent character.
Plot developments are shaped by budgetary considerations (crowd scenes of children playing trick or treat are right out) and the need to fill in the backstory for people unfamiliar with the events in earlier episodes. After a great deal of exposition the slight conclusion doesn’t really seem worth the effort.
If nothing else Tales from Paradise Heights offers value for money with a vivid new version of an old favourite and an interesting attempt to continue the series in another medium.