Continuing the Donmar Trafalgar season is Abbey Wright’s revival of Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol, a melancholic study of a man haunted by his past.
Looking back at the past is not the only parallel that can be made to A Christmas Carol, the play’s title a blatant nod to the Dickensian tale. The drama is set in a gloomy office, the only sign of any Christmas cheer some sad tinsel and a recycled advent calendar, where John (Gary Lydon), a man with no reason to be celebrating the festive season, finds himself visited by a ghost from his past.
After a self-confessed wasted life of drink and selfish mistakes, John is no Ebenezer Scrooge, instead he is painfully aware of his short fallings. After hitting rock bottom and being saved from a life on the streets by a kindly funeral director, his life now consists of funerals and morning tipples from a lonely bottle of whisky on the tea stand.
While he may not have left the drink behind him, John is desperate to no longer inflict hurt and pain on the few people left he has any sort of relationship with. Imparting his often depressing wisdom on his young apprentice Mark, John’s almost inappropriate interest in the 22-year-old’s life hints at an overwhelming desire to make amends wherever he can.
When his estranged daughter Mary turns up with devastating news, the extent of his destructive past is fully revealed, challenging even the most sympathetic members of the audience. Pauline Hutton’s performance as Mary is frenetic, twitching with nerves at seeing a man who she both loves and hates in equal measures. Lydon, in turn, is equally as painful to watch, with dark circles under his eyes and a weight on his shoulders that his Irish wit can’t begin to disguise.
Dublin Carol is split into three scenes with little action or story progression, however Wright’s pacey direction and acute attention to detail keeps the audience engaged and Lydon is undeniably gripping as the complex John.
While McPheron’s dialogue holds no punches and is occasionally brutal, the play’s many memory-heavy monologues are delivered without excuses or false sentimentality, making Dublin Carol a tough but rewarding watch.