Irish Blood, English Heart is an elegiac scraping away of a life’s debris in an attempt to find truth amongst that most human of failings – memory.
In a patriotically decorated Southwark garage, littered with the trophies of a lost life - mixed CDs, a cross country cup, a favourite jacket - we watch as the complex relationship of two brothers is deconstructed in the wake of their father’s death. Layers are slowly peeled away as the man both simultaneously held to be deity and demon is slowly but surely humanised.
While ostensibly the telling of a story-loving Irish immigrant cabbie who “shrank London down to the size of a lock-up in Southwark”, and the two sons he raised – one typically far more successful than the other, a play in itself – underneath it all are too many undercurrents playing out at once. Success and failure, the relationships of brothers, of fathers and sons, the life of a first generation immigrant, the Irish subculture of London, hopes, dreams, stories, secrets, and the ownership of all these things. While all are interesting enough to linger in the mind after the curtain call, there is a little too much to take in, eventually making Oliver Gilbert’s Anthony a necessary evil of narration, whose exposition is needed to discover the true character of the father.
That said, though Darren Murphy’s script suffered in parts for a want of trimming, Caitriona McLaughlin’s direction pulls a fine pace from the cast who show themselves both valiantly unafraid to hold a discomforting silence and equally able to extract humour from the situation. Ian Groombridge’s antsy, naive Con slowly reveals character failings deeper than a good nature can solely account for. Similarly, Howard Teale exposes unexpected depths of sensitivity in the swaggering, suave, successful ‘Ray Suede’; he is an absent brother, sure, but one who remembers each niece’s birth date, time and weight down to a pound. Fiery, yet trodden-on Peggy is painted in broader brush strokes by Darren Murphy, leaving Carolyn Tomkinson and Oliver Gilbert’s Anthony to provide excellent support to these two complex generations of immigrant men.
All told, Irish Blood, English Heart has an excellent cast playing a universal story against a dusty map of London, that will leave you pondering the nature of human faith and failings long after the stage goes dark.