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UK Theatre Guide review (excerpt)
18 May 2007
Described as “The Emerald Isle meets The Sixth Sense”, Conor McPherson’s eerie little ghost story demands to be played in an intimate space, and Bolton Octagon provides the ideal venue.
Ian is a former priest who has turned to counselling to make a living - which is after all only a privatised form of The Confessional. He’s just settling into his badly-located and poorly-serviced new office when a patient arrives - the nervous, inarticulate and rather ill-kempt John, who has moved into a shabby B&B because he keeps seeing his dead wife around the house.
But our confidence in Ian as a “focussed” and “together” professional is exploded during a confrontion with his indignant girlfriend Neasa (Mairead Conneely), who wants to know why he has abandoned her and their baby without any explanation.
The audience remain as bemused as Neasa since Ian’s feelings and motives are never fully spelled out. Eventually, however, the counselling sessions seem to effect as much change in the life of the therapist as his patient, even though it is John who is baring his soul.
Conor McPherson is primarily known as a writer of dramatic monologues, and Shining City really amounts to one incredible piece of story-telling, as John tells Ian about life before the death of his wife.
The central role of Ian is taken by Paul McCleary, who was in the Octagon’s recent production of Absurd Person Singular where he looked like a worried Stanley Baxter, and continues to do so here, the personification of a shifty de-frocked priest (okay, ex-priest, same difference).
However, the heart and soul of the production is the wonderful George Irving, who plays John. Probably best-known as charismatic surgeon Anton Meyer on Holby City, Irving is again totally compelling in a restrained and well-judged performance, effectively creating his own close-up on an open stage. He endows the unremarkable and slightly seedy character with humanity and a kind of nobility. Moreover his grasp of the dialogue’s rhythms, repetitions and pauses is masterly (stylistically McPherson is like an Irish David Mamet).
Played straight through without an interval, Mark Babych’s well-paced 100-minute production remains gripping throughout. We get a short but intense evening at the theatre which leaves us with plenty of time afterwards to ask, “What happened there, then?” Dawn Allsopp’s design crucially captures the world just beyond the office door, notably the all-important staircase with its sinister footsteps and shadows.