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The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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If the title promises whimsy of a sort it also suggests blather, and so it proves in a play where words fall like rain. A ten-minute prologue alone contains enough verbiage for an entire act; the ears are battered numb when they ought to be tickled and intrigued. Within moments of the lights dimming we are assaulted by redundant qualifiers - “ Eric Argyle was notably surprised when rather unexpectedly his eyes opened again” - and the tone is set for the ensuing ninety minutes.

Ross Dungan’s comedy, first seen at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, is a life-after-death mood piece in the grand Irish tradition of dramas that lark with the supernatural. Colm McNally’s grungy set initially raises expectations of a revenant’s tale (Barry Humphries’s Sandy Stone springs to mind) but it soon emerges that the titular Eric is indeed properly dead. He was a man whose earthly existence was blighted by regret for what might have been, and the tale unfolds to allow him a measure of post-mortem redemption.

Under Dan Herd’s sure-handed direction a dynamic eight-strong company of young Irish actors blasts its way through Dungan’s prolixity with an ensemble performance of unremitting energy. When not doubling characters they create an atmospheric soundscape with guitars and a squeeze-box harmonium, and they take turns to fling out the over-insistent narration at a lick that unsettles the listener - which may have been the intention. It is hardly the actors’ fault that the text is so low on light and shade, that drama is narrated where it could better be enacted, or that moments of repose are so rare.

As the dead Eric, Dave McEntegart, dressed in pyjamas even though it was a road accident that did for him, has the comic bewilderment of Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; his younger self when alive is played by Emmet Kirwan with loads of physical aplomb and just a tad too much gurning. Manus Halligan is superbly committed in a range of supporting roles while Davey Kelleher brings the stern Mr Aldershot to imposing life (though would a middle-aged speech therapist in the nineteen-sixties really have expressed approval with the phrase “There you go!”?).

The female roles have a sense of interchangeability about them, and one suspects that Dungan has not yet found his feminine voice as a playwright. The performances of Rachel Gleeson, Erica Murray and Karen Sheridan are as strong as the material allows them to be, but it is Siobhán Cullen, so poignant as Eric’s nearly-beloved Gillian, who most effectively tests the tear ducts.

- Mark Valencia


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