Good theatre sends you spiralling through a whole range of emotions. Tears from laughter or from sadness can be equally as expected when you walk through the doors of a playhouse, with all the other feelings in between fair game too. But very rarely does a show jump as quickly, and successfully, through emotions as The Night Alive. Violent, tense, but also funny and sweet, the piece is a fabulous experience, and one which sticks long in the memory.
All set in one room, Connor McPherson’s play tells the tale of Tommy, a middle aged father who has abandoned his family, and is just about struggling to get by with his one pal Doc. Life is meandering by as usual until Tommy runs into Amy after she has been attacked by her boyfriend Todd. Written down here it all sounds rather bleak, but situations are milked for big laughs to relieve a bit of the tension.
At the heart of this all is the unfortunate Doc. While he starts out as a bit of a sidekick, he quickly becomes key to the whole show. Whether delivering the funniest lines in the piece, inspiring heart break with tales of his life, or being the subject of horrific violence, his plight is the most affecting in the play. While Laurence Kinlan stands out in this role, the whole cast are excellent. A special mention must be made for Ian Lloyd-Anderson, whose Todd is a genuinely terrifying force of nature.
This run at the Dublin Theatre Festival is The Night Alive’s Dublin debut, but it feels like it was born to be performed here. While the script ventures into philosophy and grander themes in the third act, for the most part this is a play grounded in a bleak reality. Whether it is Tommy’s Uncle Maurice being heartbroken over the death of his wife, Amy’s alluded-to drug habit, or some unspeakable actions with a hammer, harsh set pieces are scattered liberally throughout the show. It feels like a play inspired by the back alleyways of the city, and one which highlights the struggles, and the successes, of some who live there.
While this desolate attitude is the driving force behind much of the plot, there are moments of light in there. But these are probably the weakest parts in the piece. Though briefly aiming sky high with existential themes, and even hints of a successful love story, The Night Alive works best down in the gutter, with the dark humour and shocking scenes proving far more memorable than anything else.
There is a lot more to be said for The Night Alive. The set is a beautiful mess, music cues add a cinematic quality throughout, and it is wonderfully directed. But it is really this jarring mood that makes it so successful. All at once it is sad, violent, funny and intense. The 1 hour 45 minute run times flashes by, with the excellent script and wonderful performances carrying the audience through a real ride. Bleak, yet strangely beautiful, this is comes highly recommended.
The Night Alive was performed at the Gaiety Theatre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. This coverage of the festival was made possible thanks to Travel Supermarket. For more information to travelling to Dublin, click here.