There is a cardinal sin in theatre: being boring. It doesn’t matter how rich the writing, how meticulous and atmospheric the production, or how outstanding the acting – and ‘Coolatully’, Fiona Doyle’s Papatango Prize-winning debut can claim to be all those things – boring wins out. It’s a stagnant play about stagnant people.
Ireland’s dead. Its economy has flatlined and its pubs are empty. The place is silent: radios die, music licences expire. The young are emigrating in droves. To Australia, New Zealand, San Francisco – places where the earth moves.
At 27, Killian Dempsey should follow them – along with his girlfriend Eilish and best mate Paudie, just out of jail – but something’s holding him back. His mum needs help. Old Jimmy Barrett needs company. Maybe he just belongs here: the star of the local hurling team, only now without teammates, left reliving past glories.
All this is eloquent and poetic, but ‘Coolatully’s’ problems are structural. Doyle starts by repeating four key things over and over: 1) Everyone’s emigrating. 2) Emigrating costs money. 3) Robberies are rife. 4) Old Jimmy Barrett keeps his cash beneath the floorboards. Quick, somebody call Sherlock.
Not only are we one, two, three steps ahead, but Killian’s crippling indecision means Doyle’s play bunnyhops along, stalling again and again. After 90 minutes, I could have buried Killian under Jimmy Barrett’s floorboards myself.
What an enormous pity, as otherwise, it’s great. Doyle’s dialogue is instinctive, her characters, distinctive, and her motifs, ripe with meaning. David Mercatali’s production is just as fine: easily designed by Max Dorey, and performed with both sizzle and lyricism by a strong cast. Yolanda Kettle is winning as Eilish, breezy but brittle, and Kerr Logan commands as Kieran, so loaded with fear and frustration – mostly at himself. So near, and yet so far.
For me this was a fairly decent play and far from boring. A very interesting scene where old man Jimmy tells young Killian a story about 1916, the younger man quickly stops him from telling it, saying not that old history rammed down my throat again. A statement of looking forwards not backwards is what this plays message is.