In Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol there is reminiscence not only of Christmas past but, more reflectively, that of a life passed. The honesty and recollection of an alcoholic life, the ghost of a life which could have been otherwise lived. And this is the focus of McPherson’s central character, John, how his life might have been done differently- if only.
The Sherman Theatre’s studio is once again transformed, although this time it feels different. In Lily Arnold’s design, the set literally places the audience as the fourth wall in magnitude. But this magnitude is not imposing, it is oddly endearing. Everything about stepping into John’s office is real. The attention to detail immense. Post-it notes strewn across the desk, cups stacking on sideboards, dirt gracing the kitchen and, of course, a whisky bottle underneath the paperwork of the bottom drawer.
And so, we are drawn into Christmas Eve in Dublin. Julian Moore-Cook as John’s new assistant, Mark, takes the unenviable role of confidante. Although one wonders how many times each of John’s monologues may have been played out in the local bars John recalls with familiarity. Simon Wolfe takes hold of the character of John with deft hands, feeling the highs and lows of each of John’s stories, ensuring the selfishness of alcoholism is grounded complicitly. Moore-Cook creates the lightness to keep the story moving and through Mark enables the present day to keep John’s perspective. From the personable Mark we are introduced to the initially detached Mary in the second duologue. In Mary (Siwan Morris) and John we are treated to the underpinning pain and anger of John’s story.
Through Mary we come to understand more of John’s story. His two children, his marriage, and his affair. Morris enables the anger of John to be brought to bear, evoking his history of alcoholism. At times in Morris the commitment to the rhythm of the piece compromises commitment to the accent.
In creating this wider understanding of John, so the final act, between Mark and John leaves us understanding John’s underpinning fears- of unconditional love. We are left with the sense that we can take what we need away from this story- of optimism or acceptance.
But this is no love story. Matthew Xia’s direction feels like the conductor in an orchestra. Finessing the rhythm of this dialogue, finely tuning the underpinning emotion to ensure balance. Ensuring there is no opportunity for empathy, sympathy or anger- but maintaining each to an appropriate balance.
Dublin Carol is at the Sherman Theatre until 17th February with tickets available via the website or on 029 2064 6900
Disclosure: I was invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All opinions and words contained are my own.