Review Round-Up: Donmar premieres McPherson's Night Alive
The premiere of Conor McPherson's new play opened at the Donmar Warehouse this week (19 June 2013). With a cast including Ciaran Hinds and Brian Gleeson, it runs until 27 July 2013
…a superb, vivid and violent new play by Conor McPherson… McPherson positively roisters in the language of this situation, ratchets up the tension; I've rarely seen such a brilliantly fused improvisation on Harold Pinter and David Mamet at once… But as always with McPherson, there's a glow and a poetry about these derelicts… Absurdity and sorrow mark these people of the dregs; and in Caoilfhionn Dunne, shining like a pale star in a hag black sky, I reckon we've seen the best new actress of the year, and certainly the one most difficult to second guess, let alone spell.
…The performances are the main pleasure of the production, which McPherson himself directs… Soutra Gilmour's detailed set creates a sense of a disorganised and very male world… There's some fine comic writing here… One unlikely burst of euphoria involves dancing to a Marvin Gaye song. In a grimmer sequence a moment's sweet relief is provided by Maurice's obsession with the theft of turnips from his vegetable patch… But for all these rewards, The Night Alive is strangely opaque. It is twisty and intriguing, yet there are too many unanswered questions. And while it's only right that McPherson should be at pains to avoid saying what his play is about, its meanings feel a little too elusive.
…McPherson is a master at suggesting the loneliness and the unappeasable demons of shame and despair that stalk our lives under the bantering, drink-fuelled conviviality and at intimating the human hunger for – and dread of – the numinous. These gifts are richly apparent again here… A gentle giant emitting a constant patter of quiet-voiced, propitiatory blarney, Hinds affectingly hints at a thwarted genuine grace and decency in Tommy, the compulsive scapegrace. But the play relies too much on small recuperative jumps in time that have the effect of making you wonder whether you have partly imagined the extent of the violent horror and darkness at its core. The ending too (is it real or a fantasy?) seems bet-hedging rather than ambiguous. A fine evening but not top-flight McPherson.
…There is also a lovely laconic wit and absurdity in the conversations between Tommy, Doc and Aimee, and a joyous moment when these sad, troubled characters all start dancing to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". It's vintage McPherson. And then the play, directed by the playwright, takes a wrong turn… The actors cope with the play's sudden shift in tone with aplomb, and there are fine performances all round. With his seen-it-all eyes, lank hair and walrus moustache, Ciaran Hinds is both touching and laconically witty… Caoilfhionn Dunne is memorably bruised and vulnerable as Aimee and there is strong support from Michael McElhatton as the engaging odd-bod Doc and Jim Norton as the bitter old uncle. Nevertheless it's hard to escape the feeling that McPherson has mislaid his mojo.
…It makes for a thoroughly entertaining 105 minutes, without ever offering startling insights into the author's familiar theme… There is plenty of wit and humour in the way McPherson explores the situation… The acting is also a constant pleasure. Ciaran Hinds perfectly catches the lumbering vulnerability and accustomed sadness of the kindly Tommy. Michael McElhatton as the dependent Doc, Caoilfhionn Dunne as the withdrawn Aimee and Jim Norton as Tommy's widowed uncle, desperately afraid of death, are comparably fine. Much as I like the play, however, I feel that McPherson, whose great strength lies in his resonant language, for once introduces too much plot… It's an evening of rich enjoyment; it's just that McPherson himself, in writing a masterpiece such as The Weir so early in his career, set the dramatic bar dauntingly high.
…McPherson gives us lots of laughs… despite some thrillerish tension, The Night Alive is defined by sharp, knowing dialogue. That calls for excellent performances. McPherson's production has nothing but. Hinds, hard to recognise behind his half-moon moustache, inhabits Tommy totally. Caoilfhionn Dunne is both withdrawn and phlegmatic as Aimee, and the sonorous Jim Norton ensures that Maurice's natural authority is compromised only by his attempts to look sober after a bout of daytime drinking. Michael McElhatton gives the piece its heart as Doc... Another director might have tightened this up a bit, but the drift is part of the point, part of the mordantly funny, occasionally horrifying mess of this strangely tender show.
…Ciaran Hinds is utterly convincing as this bulky, oddjob man in his 50s… Mr Hinds gives a most delicate performance to clinch this mottled character… Atmosphere is the main achievement. Writer Conor McPherson, who also directs, creates a mood of bruised stoicism, of people down on their luck yet not quite down on their human spirit… This is a sparse, simply constructed play. Is it believable? Not entirely… Just luxuriate in two touchingly gentle performances by Messrs Hinds and McElhatton… This play never quite joins up enough dots between stars to be clear of its intentions, but it will leave you with a contemplative buzz.