McPherson’s earlier drama The Weir (at the Octagon in 2003) Shining
City is full of hauntings. But the earlier play’s overt ghost stories
are replaced by a single, more oblique tale, its ghost-provoking rural isolation
by Dublin’s urban stresses. It’s here Ian, a former Catholic priest,
has set-up as a therapist.
Paul McCleary’s Ian could have acquired his comforting manner, hunched
forward, quietly-spoken in his chair as he speaks to his client John, in either
job. But behind the calm is his disturbance over the dead Mari, marked in
interwoven scenes where he seeks emotional comfort with woman friend Neasa
and rent-boy Laurence.
His failure to lay Mari’s memory to rest is apparent in the one moment
that matches the publicity’s expectations. It’s a visual moment
in a play otherwise dominated by speech, a shock in a drama otherwise proceeding
quietly, and often hesitant-seeming. Three years ago, in the author’s
Royal Court production (see review in reviewsgate’s Archive), it was
the aspect of the play that tested London’s fastidious critics.
It’s likely to be what gets audiences talking in Bolton, after the quieter,
psychological shifts. Unlike The Weir, most of the dialogue doesn’t
directly unravel the pressures confirmed in the closing moment. McPherson
demands close attention to what seems dramatically inconsequential but which
builds the dark individual experience beneath the city’s shine.
Mark Babych’s production catches the right key; quietly intense, with
the sense of lives struggling on. George Irving has a more openly anxious
manner than Stanley Townsend, who was magnificent in the role in London, but
as someone more clearly disturbed by memories that are gradually palliated,
Irving is fine.
A bold choice for the Octagon, it comes off in its own terms but might find
an audience fractious from being led to expect something more upfront and