Jack Studio Theatre – until 9 June
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Conor McPherson’s skill in creating characters on the fringes of society scraping along and doing whatever they must to get by shines through in The Night Alive. Set in Tommy’s Dublin “flat” (really a room in his uncle’s house) the repercussions of his good deed, stepping in to rescue Aimee from her violent boyfriend, impact on the lives of everyone in the house.
Tommy (David Cox) is a bit of a chancer, separated from his wife and trying to stay in his teenaged children’s lives. Making a living doing odd jobs and clearing with his van, stuck back in his uncle’s house and using the same euro coin to feed the meter every time, his life is going nowhere. The beautifully realised set tells the story of Tommy’s life and dreams – among the squalor of bin bags and boxes of junk are piles of paperbacks – all westerns or James Bond – and a poster of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape takes pride of place on the wall. Cox is wonderful as the lonely, decent man endlessly frustrated with his situation, making Tommy’s hope of a new beginning with Aimee completely believable. Doc (Eoin Lynch) is Tommy’s friend who helps out on the van, drifting between his sister’s house and Tommy’s, sleeping in the van or the camp bed, and waiting patiently for his wages. At first sight, Doc is a total caricature – stained shell suit, woolly hat, wonky glasses and learning difficulties – but McPherson’s writing and Lynch’s finely nuanced performance draw you in, helping you understand the sympathy, annoyance and protective love that Tommy feels for Doc, and drawing moans of “noooo” and gasps from the audience at the end of the first act. Uncle Maurice (Dan Armour), scared of death and filled with guilt about the death of his wife, takes his frustrations out on Tommy, longing for the days when their relationship was simpler and happy – although this nurturing side emerges with Aimee and Doc. Bethan Boxall impresses as Aimee with a wonderful mix of toughness and vulnerability, and is devastating in her scenes with Kenneth, flitting between freeze, flight and fight modes brilliantly. Howie Ripley is vile as Kenneth (I mean that as a compliment), giving the manipulative, violent creature no redeeming features at all in a performance that will make you squirm with discomfort.
There is a lot of humour to be found amongst the despair and drama of the characters’ situations, and McPherson’s writing throws in social comment, philosophical musings and moral dilemmas that keep the audience on its toes – Doc’s spiritual and poetic description of black holes is a standout moment. Dan Armour’s confident and instinctive direction lets the cast shine and the scene changes are marked with some lovely and fitting song choices. First Knight Theatre’s production is nuanced and thoughtful but unflinching, packed with fantastic and authentic performances. This is a rare opportunity to see The Night Alive in London – grab a ticket while you can