The Night Alive begins with an empty downstairs studio flat in Dublin. Two beds, a table, a kitchen in the back corner, brown curtains hanging over the grimy windows, and clothes scattered over every surface of the floor … except where there are already bags, boxes, probably cockroaches, and perhaps even a dead body or two.
A naïve reading of the play’s setup is that Tommy (played by Adrian Dunbar) is a nice guy who likes to rescue lost causes. Take his wee mate Doc – short for Brian! – as an example. Played by Laurence Kinlan, Doc is a bit slow on the uptake and Tommy keeps an eye out for him, throwing him some work and sometimes letting him kip over on the spare bed.
More likely, Tommy’s ideas about sexual gratification and not going all the way parallel the extent of his feelings of responsibility to those he assists and mimic the limits of how far he’ll actually go to help the quarry whom he targets with his brand of support. It was probably no accident that lonely Tommy was walking through the red light zone with his bag of chips. But before he had time to get his wallet out, fate introduced him to Aimee and his help gene took over. While he uses Doc on some of his shed-clearing jobs, his unwillingness to pay him in cash perhaps shows who is getting most benefit out of the relationship.
You know we've got to find a way / To bring some lovin' here today
The strains of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On aptly sums up the situation. They’re a forlorn bunch, and everyone could do with some comfort and dependable companionship.
The mood changes when a pale-suited Kenneth (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) walks into the flat and a silent menace hovers over the characters as the play heads towards its ambiguous conclusion after a few too many false endings.
One scene flows into another as one set of characters walk out a door and the next scene’s complement of cast walk in another. There’s no guarantee how Tommy will be dressed or what he’ll be doing anytime he comes back out of the bathroom. There are visual gags aplenty along with some beautiful musical sequences that effortlessly show off Adrian Dunbar’s singing and dancing abilities. Friday night’s audience hollered and giggled at the scripted shenanigans.
The play is a co-production between the Lyric and Dublin Theatre Festival, one of an increasing number of north-south collaborations that is creating and sharing good theatre in a more sustainable fashion.
The Night Alive is a joy to watch: funny, painful, shocking, and delivered with really confident acting that lights up the script in the island’s dingiest flat. It’s one of my favourite pieces of Belfast theatre this year and runs in the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until Saturday 31 October.
To find other picks from Belfast Festival, check out my preview post.
* Apparently there’s photographic evidence up on the walls of the Lyric of Adrian Dunbar’s first state of undress, while the latest escapade is now indelibly etched into the minds of The Night Alive audiences!