The recent run of Conor McPherson’s The Weir at the Donmar is followed by his brand new play The Night Alive; another story that unfurls among the Irish underclasses.
It begins with down-on-his-luck odd-job man Tommy carrying an even further down-on-her-luck young woman into his squalid bedsit. The woman, Aimee, has been on the receiving end of a beating from her ex (a terrifying, Begbie-esque performance by Brian Gleeson). The next 40 minutes consist largely of rapid-fire but meandering Dublin banter, with little in the way of narrative drive. Ciaran Hinds’ timing is impeccable as the jaded huckster Tommy but he is lumbered with all the heavy-lifting: his is the only character that feels fleshed out; Aimee and Tommy’s nice-but-dim best friend Doc are just satellites around his sizable stage presence.
The whole thing turns on a six-pence when Aimee’s past catches up with her. An act of senseless violence – sickening in its brutal depiction – ushers in a period of unrelenting bleakness. The harrowing events are broken up by some welcome – and fascinating – philosophical vignettes, but these feel under-explored.
The Night Alive is very well – sometimes brilliantly – acted but McPherson’s handling of his characters at times feels unnecessarily spiteful. There is a shadow of bitter-sweet redemption at the play’s finale, but it’s too little, too late to erase the slightly sour taste.
First published in City A.M.