Have you ever been banjaxed? I first heard that word a good many years ago when Terry Wogan used it in his radio show. It’s a good Irish word meaning among other things confounded. The reason I mention this is because I was left feeling banjaxed after seeing Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley
Tommy (David Cox) is in his early fifties. He is a bit of a jack-the-lad but he is also lonely. He is estranged from his wife and kids and is currently living in a little room in the house owned by his uncle Maurice (Dan Armour). Tommy doesn’t really work in the conventional sense of the word. He has a van and, with the help of his friend Doc (Eoin Lynch), he makes some sort of living doing odd jobs and moving things for people. Doc and Tommy rub along just fine until one night when Tommy rescues a young girl called Aimee (Bethan Boxall) from being beaten and takes her home, which like Tommy himself, may not be much to look at but is at least friendly and welcoming. In fact, it looks as if Aimee may have fallen on her feet in meeting Tommy. He may be a bit of a dreamer but his heart is in the right place and, although he may not realise it, he is on the market for some form of personal relationship. Unfortunately, a menacing stranger called Kenneth (Howie Ripley) may turn out to be the fly in the ointment to everyone’s future endeavours.
Not many plays leave me scratching my head and wondering what just happened. Even fewer have me doing it at the end of both the first and second ats but The Night Alive definitely did. There is some very clever writing at work here by Conor McPherson. On the face of it, The Night Alive appears to be a pretty conventional story but the more you think about it, the more layers you see to the narrative. Without giving anything away, this is a play that really needs thinking about. I ended up downloading the playtext and reading through it a couple of times. I think this is one of those shows where two people watching it will have completely different ideas about what they saw. To be able to generate such debate shows the skill of the writer and makes for a fascinating evening.
The delivery of show is really important and Director Dan Armour has a fine cast to work with, particularly in David Cox who manages to make Tommy a loveable rogue, even when he is being rather nasty to those around him. Tommy is one of those guys you would happily share a pint with but maybe a bit a wary if he offers to let you in on the ground floor of some scheme he has got going. At one point he looked, so trapped, I wanted to give him a hug. At another, he just radiated happiness – a man of many facets brought to life beautifully by David. And Tommy has the most marvelous sidekick in Eoin Lynch’s Doc. A man who may be a little slow on the uptake; As Tommy says ‘no matter how long Doc may have to process unfolding events, he will always be five to ten minutes behind everyone else’. Not only is this wonderful prose but it sums Doc up perfectly, except there are moments of almost pure genius, not mention his dreams, in Doc’s story and Eoin plays the shambolic, good-hearted soul perfectly.
A quick word about the set and the amazing story done by Dave Jones and Dan Armour in transferring the Jack’s compact stage area into a working bedsit so full of stuff, you are expecting the team from ‘Hoarders’ to pop in and film an episode. But, even with all the ‘stuff’ in the flat, there was still enough room for the cast to move around without getting in each other’s way. A masterclass in set design, combined with great direction.
Overall, I thought The Night Alive was a fascinating show. It left me wanting to know so much more about all of the characters and wondering which of the various scenarios in my head, fitted best with the ending I had seen. This is only the second time the play has been performed in the UK since it premiered at the Donmar, and I would recommend you get yourself to Brockley and take it in before it goes off for another five years, waiting to be discovered all over again.
Review by Terry Eastham
You only get a few goes. At life. You don’t get endless goes. Two, three goes maybe. When you hit the right groove you’ll click right in there…this is it.
Tommy is not a bad man, he’s getting by. Renting a run-down room in his Uncle Maurice’s house, just about keeping his ex-wife and kids at arm’s length and rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to another with his pal Doc.
Then one day he comes to the aid of Aimee, who’s not had it easy herself, struggling through life the only way she knows how. Their past won’t let go easily. But together there’s a glimmer of hope they could make something more of their lives. Something extraordinary. Perhaps. The Night Alive deftly mines the humanity to be found in the most unlikely of situations.
The Creative Team |
Playwright | Conor McPherson
Director | Dan Armour
Set Design | Dave Jones
Costume Design | Pauline Armour Sound Design | Tom Dignum
Producer | First Knight Theatre
Tommy – David Cox
Aimee – Bethan Boxall
Doc – Eoin Lynch
Maurice – Dan Armour
Kenneth – Howie Ripley
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH