The minute you see two scruffy old men chatting about not very much, the mind leaps to Waiting For Godot. But The Absence Of Women is less existential pondering, more quiet mourning for moments passed.
In the beginning, there is nothing. Darkness. Disembodied voices drift out from a pitch black stage until the lights fade up on two rough old Irish buddies nattering over mugs of tea. You can tell they are not recent acquaintances as they argue and compete with each other without any fear of offence or reprisal in the way that only comes with time. The back and forth, ebb and flow of McCafferty’s writing once again draws the mind back to Godot, though The Absence Of Women is a much earthier affair, dealing with characters who are far more specific in time and space.
The death of ‘wee Jimmy’ has brought them to wherever they are – we only have a table and two chairs to go on – and has cajoled them into considering their own lives. Among the tales of drinking exploits and numerous varied labouring jobs, each has a pivotal moment of regret that gets played out like a stolen memory. Both are poignant in different ways and make you feel for the silent, unspoken heartache that each character has lived with and through.
Both Ciaran McIntyre’s slightly obsessive Iggy – the more approval-seeking of the pair – and Peter Gowen’s forceful Gerry wear physical as well as emotional scars; their faces betraying the hurt in their heart.
Though Owen McCafferty’s piece is staunchly focused on the two Irishmen who have spent their entire working lives in England, Alice O’Connell is heartbreaking in her appearance as a girl who just wants to be noticed and appreciated, and Francis Mezza, making his professional stage debut, embodies the bravado of youth before revealing a nasty streak.
The Tricycle is the perfect size for Rachel O’Riordan’s neat production, which uses huge movement and over-the-top theatricality sparsely and is, instead, at its best in moments of stillness, when the pain of opportunities missed and thoughts of a life that could have been so different are etched clearly on the actors’ spot-lit, scarred faces.