A few years back, when I first came across Roddy Doyle’s Two Pints, I gave a copy to two Irish lads in Budapest thinking that it was worth staging. We never did, but the thought was there.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be in Dublin to see it live, in the Abbey. And for free. I love the theatre, and I love it, even more, when I don’t have to pay for it. I was a great fan of the pay-what-you-can Tuesdays on the London Fringe back in the day. (Or maybe it was Mondays, but aren’t theatres usually dark on Mondays? No matter.) Given tickets, I’d go see anything. There’s something mesmerising about watching a live performance where just about anything could go wrong and yet everything seems to go right.
During my time in London, I went every week to see something. Sometimes I went twice a week. And once I remember going twice in one day. If I miss anything about that city, it’s the theatre.
That said, I don’t ever remember any of the big theatres offering free previews as the Abbey does. And it’s all very orderly. Four hundred tickets are given out at 6.30 but the queue starts before 5. You collect your number and then if you’re bothered about getting a good seat, you line up until you exchange your number for a real ticket at 6.30. It’s all very orderly. Once you get your tickets you can go eat and come back at 7.15 when the doors open. I was surprised at how well it all worked. And a note to drivers, the nearby Irish Life car park has a deal – a special evening rate of €8 from 5.30 to midnight.
Anyway, judging by the banter, it seemed that the crowd was made up of regulars. Four older lads (as in older than me) sat behind us looking at the two pints waiting on the bar on the stage.
‘We’ll be gaspin’ for a fuckin’ pint by the time this is over.’
‘See the load of women here…same as last time. They’ll be laughin’ before the jokes come out.’
Doyle is a master of dialogue. We weren’t in the audience watching the two lads drink their pints and have the banter on stage – we were in the pub with them. I was brought back, again, to my days in London. An English colleague had commented in the pub one evening that I answered questions with stories and would bounce around the place from one topic to the next, the links tenuous at best. I told him that it was an Irish thing. Just as in Two Pints.
Richard III, Nigella Lawson, and German footballers featured strongly. Fantasies were played out. Opinions on what was in the papers were bandied around my favourite being on the topic of binge drinking:
Three pints in an evening isn’t a national crisis, it’s a necessity.
Doyle doesn’t shy away from expletives. He writes as it’s spoken, something some of the audience found both shocking and titillating. When the c-word was first dropped, you could hear a collective intake of breath followed by a tide of nervous titters. The play, in three acts, moves over three days, three sessions at the pub where two mates sit and chat about life and the universe and their place in it. The bartender, Raymond (Lawrence Lowry), goes about his business, never saying a word. All credit to him – he made the pub seem real. The two nameless lads played by Liam Carney and Philip Judge are the epitome of the Irish male friendship.
Before it got to the stage in the Abbey, Two Pints ran in pubs around the country. That’s where I wanted to see it. Up close and personal, in the setting it was written for. Chris O’Rourke’s review in The Arts Review captures it beautifully.
As is often the case, in “Two Pints” alcohol serves as a neat dramatic device to get men talking beyond their brilliant drivel, giving them an out for letting their guard down so they can discuss issues of a more personal nature. The personal issues in this instance being the long, lingering dying of a father in Beaumont Hospital. Amidst hilarious reflections on Nigella Lawson, hospital carparks, the attractiveness of powerful women and endless ‘what if’ scenarios, many revolving around a German football team in the afterlife, personal truths leak in. About children who died, health fears, fathers and sons finally saying what needed to be said, the dread of waiting for that final phone call. Powerless to control death or where they were born, they can at least control everything else by way of elucidating on all forms of current affairs. If, in the end, all they know is that it’s all a load of nonsense anyway, their stoic acceptance might well belie an emotional rawness simmering below the surface.
If you’re in Dublin between now and 10 August and want a glimpse of Dublin Irish in all its glory, check it out.