King's Arms, Salford
Paradise Heights is a fictional community populated by a gangster, his victims, ghosts and angels. Café owner Sean (Joe O'Byrne, who wrote the play) struggles to recompense for past mistakes and assuage his guilt. He gently encourages arson survivor Gabrielle (Jo Malone) to overcome inhibitions about her scars and pursue a romance with Jake (Richard Allen). But a supernatural prediction turns out to be correct and a corrupt policeman and a figure from Sean's past may make his best intentions impossible to fulfil.
Past instalments in the Paradise Heights series have been in the style of interconnected short stories. Diane's Deli is more like a novel and not a short one. There is much that could be trimmed to make the play a more workable length. O'Byrne writes excellent dialogue but the speeches are an unrealistically long. Past events in the series are not just referred to but described in detail and background information and character motivation are spelt out with unnecessary precision. The conclusion of a doomed romance is both described and enacted.
The focal point of the play does not become apparent for some time. The sense of drifting is not helped by Neil Bell's leisurely direction that fails to build any atmosphere of foreboding or menace.
There is some fine acting in the play. Jo Malone brings out the contrast of Gabrielle's understated pride in her achievements and understandable timidity at taking any further risks. Neil Bell creates a tremendous sociopath although the sudden shift towards dark humour that he generates seems inappropriate as the play nears its conclusion.
The major limitation of Diane's Deli is that the central character is so unsympathetic. Sean lacks the insight that makes a great tragic character. He reverts to type instinctively and without hesitation suggesting that his reformation has been a maudlin self-pitying attempt to make himself feel better rather than a genuine unselfish effort to secure redemption.
A great deal of effort has been spent to make this a memorable production including the use of an original and haunting theme tune. A shame that similar care was not taken in the editing process.
- Dave Cunningham