Recently crowned Regional Theatre of the Year, Sherman Theatre maintains its recent run of excellent productions with Conor McPherson’s play Dublin Carol.
So highly regarded after Conor McPherson’s smash 1997 play The Weir, the Royal Court Theatre in London, (known as The Writers’ Theatre), reopened with Dublin Carol after a lengthy closure due to redevelopment. First performed in February 2000, it later opened Off-Broadway almost three years later to the day, and both productions received widespread critical acclaim.
The play is set in three parts, all occurring on Christmas Eve. The design layout is prescribed in the playtext. An office, (which happens to be in North Dublin, where all Mcpherson’s famous early monologue plays are set), is rather shabbily decorated with Christmas decorations that have seen better years. These decorations have been rather casually put up, reflecting upon the character of the man who inhabits this space in its lack of effort. Religious icons such as a crucifix and the presence of an advent calendar, with only a few dates left to be opened are prevalent as is a fairly nondescript one foot high artificial Christmas Tree. A small electric fire is found centre stage with a long flex loosely lying to a power point some distance away. A small kitchen area, filing cabinets and desk indicate that this is an office rather than someone’s abode, and the text soon reveals that it belongs to an undertaker.
This play is a three-hander with the protagonist John appearing throughout. The first and third parts are played with a young man Mark and the middle featuring John’s estranged daughter Mary.
Comparisons are easy to make to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, also set on Christmas Eve. You can relate Mary to the Ghost of Christmas Past, as the dialogue between her and her father reveal the severe familial problems that have occurred in the past. Mark, who is also performing undertaking duties on a temporary basis to aid his uncle Noel, (Christmas), who is laid up in hospital. Mark is in a relationship with an air stewardess and in part three you find that this is suffering from considerable strain with the young man wishing to break loose. Mark can be looked upon as the Ghost of Christmas Future, because John offers advice on the course of action to be taken by his young colleague.
However, McPherson isn’t a Dickensian disciple, and for that matter, neither is he a satirist. Unlike Scrooge who undergoes a transformation from miser to philanthropist, you are not going to see such a change in John over the course of a single day.
For John is an alcoholic, and one who finds an excuse for every miserable act he has committed in his life to date, influenced by drink. Conor McPherson, also, has suffered from a closer encounter with the “demon drink” than is too good for his health. However, it would be wrong to consider this play is about alcoholism, although it takes central stage. Also, it would be incorrect to surmise that Dublin Carol is autobiographical. In fact, a major health breakdown caused by his excessive drinking was suffered by the playwright after his his next play, Port Authority, (2001). It is on record that subconsciously in the playwright’s mind, Dublin Carol may have premeditated the events of the following year.
The play, also has a character named Carol in it. She was John’s girlfriend when he was married, but was rejected due to her providing her liver with carte blanche authority to do what he liked. There were no conditions to their relations and ultimately John rejected her because he needs some sense of structure in his life, which Noel, the owner of the undertaking business, who has taken him on, despite knowing about his problems with alcohol. John is a natural successor to the masculine self-pitying, ready to apportion blame on everyone except themselves, anti-heroes of McPherson’s earlier monologic characters.
John is played by Simon Wolfe with a ferocious intensity that seamlessly changes from high good humour to savage anger.
The two supporting actors, Welsh actress Siwan Morris as Mary and Julian Moore-Cook as Mark maintain highly creditable Dublin accents, alien to their natural speaking voice, and manage not to get swept away by Simon Wolf’s powerful study of John.
Robustly directed by Sherman debutante Matthew Xia, the design by Lily Arnold is assured and at times beautiful. In a memorable final scene, an illuminated wreath-like motto descends from above, “Endure to the End and be Saved” from the Gospel of St. Matthew. This provides the key to the open ending. Will John receive redemption in the end? The Advent Calendar, which ends on Christmas Day with the revealing of Jesus, also is about redemption.
In the end depending on your take on John, you will either care whether he does or not receive redemption.
Suitable for 14+ due to pervasive language throughout.
See Director Matthew Xia’s introduction to the play on Youtube below
Dublin Carol runs until 17 February at the Sherman Studio at 7.30 pm. Duration 80 minutes – no interval.