Act One winds its way to the none-too-startling revelation that our hero, Alfie Byrne, a Dublin bus conductor in love with poetry, drama and, in particular, the works of Oscar Wilde, is himself in thrall to the love that dare not speak its name. Act Two charts the belated rite of passage by which he faces up to his true nature, finds degradation and, ultimately, acceptance. A none-too-startling plot either, and, given the fact that the show is set in an Ireland where bus conductors are still respected members of the community, and still clip passengers’ tickets, it has bucketfuls of the aforementioned bittersweet charm and a liberal helping of sentimentality.
The production, directed by Ben De Wynter, is a low-budget, small-space marvel. Stephen Flaherty’s music is haunting and evocative, if overly reliant on the lilting tones of flute and penny-whistle, and Lynn Ahrens’s lyrics are sharp and well-characterised. A lament on Alfie’s preoccupation with books is particularly memorable.
Alfie’s great ambition is to stage an amateur production of Wilde’s Salomé, which, in a tight-knit Catholic community, is doomed, rather too obviously, to an inglorious end. The chief pleasure of this show, however, is not the subtlety (or otherwise) of the plotting, but the ensemble playing of the cast. Olivier Award-winner Paul Clarkson has just the right combination of believable innocence and beguiling zeal as Alfie, enthusing his loyal band of bus passengers with the nature of art, and Róisín Sullivan, the shy girl from Roscommon who is persuaded to be his Salomé, is a delight. Also notable in a 17-strong cast are Anthony Cable as a widower who still misses the cuddles of his ample wife, Paul Monaghan as Alfie’s leading man and subsequent betrayer, and Joanna Nevin as his long-suffering sister.
The Oscar Wilde angle (and yes, he does make an appearance, to spur on our timid hero) is tiresome and too clunking a device, but if you want a good-hearted show to send you out into a wintry night with a smile on your face, this one will more than do the trick.
- Giles Cole