In Conor McPherson’s latest play at the Donmar Warehouse, which follows hot on the heels of Josie Rourke’s revival of his Olivier Award-winning hit The Weir, the playwright proves that he is not only a consistently engaging writer but also an extremely talented director.
His self-directed play The Night Alive unfolds in the squalid disorder of a cramped Dublin room, where toilet roll is kept in the kitchen, dirty dishes reside in the bathroom and pretty much anything serves as a bin. When we first meet the dwelling’s occupant, a rather unkempt Irishman named Tommy, he has come to the rescue of Aimee, a young prostitute nursing a severe punch to the face, an incident that comes to mark the beginning of a somewhat unlikely friendship that develops throughout the course of this hour and 45 minute production.
Separated from his wife and in rare contact with his children, Tommy gets along in life with the help of old friend and business – if you can call it a business – partner Doc and his bemoaning Uncle Maurice, whose downstairs room he rents.
There is an element of warmth about each of McPherson’s characters. Maurice, though condescending and protective over his turnips, is afforded moments of both slapstick comedy and heart-breaking sadness by Jim Norton, as his character hits the bottle in an attempt to cope with the loss of his beloved wife. Michael McElhatton channels a similar sense of loneliness into his performance as Doc, a man who leans on Tommy for both companionship and shelter as his sister repeatedly chucks him out of her home.
The only woman in the production, Caoilfhionn Dunne affords Aimee with a desperate vulnerability as she suffers at the hands of her psychotic boyfriend, an unwelcome visitor in the lives of the other characters, who is given a dark and disturbing edge by Brian Gleeson.
But it is Ciarán Hinds’ performance that stands above the rest. While on the outside Tommy appears a greasy-haired waste of space, on the inside he is a generous and kind man who, when it comes down to it, always puts others before himself. Every word spoken is believable and every pause perfectly timed as Hinds combines the right amount of despair, joviality and aggression to form a figure so realistic that he has your heart exploding with both pity and affection.
It is partly down to McPherson’s flowing dialogue, of course, that the characters and situation are so believable. With moments of horrific violence and laugh-out-loud comedy in equal measure, plus a hilarious rendition of The Robot by McElhatton, the play certainly makes for a night alive with entertainment.