Giving a voice to a new generation of Irish emigrants is the hefty challenge Philip Doherty has taken on in his latest drama.
Doherty's 'Close to the Sun' made its bow in Smock Alley Theatre as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, and saw Stephen Darcy direct a cast of top notch actors under the auspices of The Corps Ensemble.
Set in Perth, Australia the story is fuelled by the effect the scorching sun has on the “energy” of the land. That, in turn, affects an ideal love that twists and turns as it tries to save itself.
It doesn't centre on emigree Colin. Maybe it does. Maybe it centres on his Australian sweetheart, Sophie. Maybe it doesn't.
When Colin's brother Rory appears just before the wedding with a holdall containing a change of clothes, some secrets, issues and shoulder chips there is a feeling that “downward” and “spiral” may be on the agenda.
There are many of the devices of classical literary tragedy used by Doherty, with little nodding references to Icarus and Oedipus, plus all sorts of patricide, familicide and whatever Greek shenanigans you can think of.
The play is a fine example of why Doherty attracts commendation. The dialogue contains one of the most cleverly drawn analysis of why pub culture changed in Ireland. It has delicious observations on family, alcoholism and society, but the headiest of themes ultimately cede to the story.
Story drives 'Close to the Sun' along, but en route the tourguides make incisive social commentary on the role of prejudice in culture, the contrasting lifestyles of those who leave Ireland, sibling rivalry and relationship.
Doherty said that the play looks to “give a voice to a generation of Irish people who are experiencing a different type of emigration” to what has traditionally been portrayed in Irish theatre and literature. The Corps Ensemble production does a good job of fulfilling that mandate.
The location is superbly conveyed, which is surprising because the set could not have been more minimal. The lighting is subtle and the sound design is brilliant in its simplicity, eerily moody and wonderfully atmospheric.
At the heart of the show is a very strong cast. While the cast far exceed competence, Mary Murray and Neil Fleming put in acting masterclasses.
Murray skates along the story arc transitioning from the coquettish wife-to-be, through to bridezilla, at all times flashing a myriad of feelings until reaching her destination of emotional exhaustion. She is ever plausible, telling her story in an accent that garrottes like piano wire, but somehow retaining a curious allure.
Fleming's contribution is equally brilliant. There are no dramatic gesture, just delivery. He assumes the mantel of “anti-hero with an inevitable destiny” with ease and firmly guides his character to his fatal tragic end.
Close to the Sun is a wonderful collaboration between Doherty and The Corps Ensemble with support from Dublin Fringe Lab and Dublin Fringe Festival in association with Civic Theatre.
Hopeful Cavan audiences will have a chance to see this show on home turf.