Laughing and crying at lunchtime in Dublin

I love having you home, but I couldn’t afford it if you moved home permanently. So said a mate of mine as we spent a leisurely Saturday in Dublin recently rediscovering one of the city’s hidden gems.

Upstairs in the iconic Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street, there’s a small theatre that seats about 50 people. Here, at lunchtimes, starting at 1pm, you can have your bowl of soup and your brown bread while watching some of the best of Irish talent on stage in one-(wo)man shows. If I’m lucky, and I time it right, trips home can include a crossover so I can catch two shows. I was lucky this time.

Last Saturday, it was the brilliant Phelim Drew starring in a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s first book Down and out in Paris and London. With nothing on stage except a table and a chair, Drew (son of the late great Ronnie Drew) played his heart out over the course of an hour bringing to life a host of characters, none more credible than the character’s ex-girlfriend. Any actor who can make me believe I’m listening to or watching a woman just by a change of voice, posture, and tone is impressive. When I go to the theatre, I expect both to suspend my belief and still believe in everything I see and hear. No wonder I’ve been known to drive people to drink with my expectations.

As is usual for Orwell, Drew’s character is never named but we get a sense of who and what he’s like through his narrative. He was so credible that being an ‘everyman’ didn’t matter. For once I didn’t need name, rank, and serial number. I was completely absorbed and for an hour, genuinely believed that he was real.

Then on Tuesday, we went to see the inimitable Hilda Fay in My name is Alice Devine, a play by Shay Linehan about ‘one woman’s struggle to cope with everything post-boom Ireland can throw at her’. Hilda Fay is better known for her role as Tracey McGuigan on the long-running Irish soap, Fair City. I saw her years ago in Roddy Doyle’s The Woman who Walked into Doors and was impressed. So impressed that I changed plans and made sure I had this opportunity to see her again.

As an actor, she took us to the edge so many times in one hour that I lost track. We laughed, we cried, we hated, we loved. Like Drew, she too brought a cast of characters to life so vividly that I could picture what they looked like. Crying into my soup on a Tuesday lunchtime in Dublin wasn’t quite what I’d planned for my day (and little did I know that I’d be crying again later that evening – that’s another story though). I was reminded of the lines from Rod McKuen

However wretchedly I feel,
I feel.

I can be emotional, I admit. But had you told me that I could feel (really feel) so many emotions in 60 minutes, I wouldn’t have believed you. This really is theatre at its best. If you are in Dublin, it runs till 11 October. Go see it.



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