The Night Alive

It certainly seems to be the season of the Irish playwright. And as The Cripple of Inishmaan crash lands at the Noel Coward Theatr, down the road at the Donmar Warehouse something different is afoot. Following straight on from a revival of Conor McPherson’s play The Weir, the Donmar is now host to his new play, The Night Alive.


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The elaborate, haphazard bedsit set is host to the riveting, near two-hour long look at the struggles of getting by. Tommy, the tenant in his Uncle Maurice’s Edwardian house, gives refuge to Aimee, a hurricane of a girl, who has just been attacked, and he offers her a safe place while she recovers. Together with his friend/employee/roommate Doc, they negotiate their way through life meandering over its hardships, its highs and lows.

Amid a series of scenes, one of the best being them dancing to Marvin Gaye, Tommy and Aimee realise that the world may just have a place for them if they work through it together. The danger that Aimee brings with her however, packs a real surprise punch and changes their lives dramatically.

The play is rather a slow burner without an interval, but the five actors make certain that the story is safe in their hands, and all deliver splendid performances that keep you gripped from start to finish. Ciaran Hinds, who is well-known at the moment for the TV hit Game of Thrones, gives us golden-hearted Tommy, who jumps from one get-rich-quick scheme to the next, and simultaneously tries to keep his ex-wife and teen kids at an arm’s length. Aimee, played by Caoilfhionn Dunne is haunted and affected, and Doc (Michael McElhatton) tries to bridge a comic gap between the two. Jim Norton, Tony Award winner for The Seafarer, another of McPherson’s offerings, is landlord Maurice who has a penchant for his prize turnips and thinks nothing of drinking at midday. Brian Gleeson’s Kenneth is a brutish, menace of a man, and the fight scenes (expertly directed by Paul Burke) makes the audience gasp in horror at the impressive violence.

The testosterone filled bedsit is a detailed, amalgamation of styles, expertly put together by designer Soutra Gilmour and the direction, by the playwright himself, is edgy and fresh.

For all its brilliant acting however, there is something missing from the play and I think it’s down to the constant questions that you find yourself asking – yet perhaps this is just what McPherson wanted us to do.  And although the questions you find yourself asking are ones about the characters’ lives, you never doubt the genius of the comic writing and scenes that provide the highlights of the night. It seems that McPherson has managed to write another gem of a play, one that will leave you contemplating the black holes in life thanks to Doc’s last speech, but I’d say is well worth taking a gamble for one of the Donmar’s famous front row, £10 seats.

The Night Alive is playing The Donmar Warehouse until 27 July 2013. For more information and tickets, see The Donmar Warehouse website.