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The Absence of Women

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Two old Irish fellas from Belfast, Iggy and Gerry, are working on the roads in London and exchanging memories over large cups of coffee in the hostel they now call home.

The stage is bare save for a great pile of shovels across the front of it. Rachel O'Riordan’s production from the Lyric in Belfast is the opposite of arch or po-faced, but there is the bleakness of Beckett in the condition of men who belong nowhere and, like the tramps in Waiting for Godot, have only each other to blame for anything.

Somewhat schematically, each is revealed to have buried the past in failure and disappointment. In the case of Peter Gowen’s monumental, ruggedly handsome Gerry, his life hinged on the moment he turned down an English girl on the dance floor: Alice O’Connell’s Dotty emerges from the shadows to challenge his shyness.

Iggy’s social embarrassment was of a more complicated order, involving a background in boxing and taunts about his sexuality. Ciaran McIntyre’s craggy, bearded old fighter suggests his loneliness stems from an inability to face the truth; “Belfast taught me not to talk,” says Gerry. “Belfast men don’t dance.”

It’s a neat and moving play, all done in seventy minutes. Both actors are utterly, and tragically, convincing as these sad derelicts living in the past and consumed in pointless, competitive conversation about London tube stations and the size of their livers bloated with alcohol.

You could find their counterparts slouched over pints in any pub along the Kilburn High Road, except that these two have now gone beyond the drink and are suspended in this hostel purgatory before finding their way (after an argument, and a disaster) to a cemetery on the Northern Line.

“I went out with an Irishman once,” Dotty wistfully remarks. “He ended up forgetting I was there.” An entire culture of hurt, repression and frustration is revealed, only to be surprisingly, and beautifully, contradicted in an unexpected turn on the dance floor.


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