Irish dramatist Colin Teevan's play opens to the clang of pick on stone; three Irishmen – one young, one old, one somewhere in between – are digging around a pile of rubble. Our period is sometime in the last century; the men are navvies – journeymen labourers, brought across the water from the country they call 'the kingdom' to build England's infrastructure.
It's a powerful subject, and one that director Lucy Pitman-Wallace and designer Jessica Curtis imbue with atmosphere: the fractured, chalky rubble; the clash of stone and spade that is the relentless soundtrack to the men's lives. And at its best, Teevan's script – a series of tales, delivered by each man in turn, whose interconnectedness only becomes clear by the end – delivers some muscular poetry.
But the fragmented storytelling remains bewildering for much of the play, and veers too quickly into the territory of heightened melodrama. Teevan cites the dramas of ancient Greece as an influence, and all that form's extremities are here: rape, incest, patricide, ritual blinding, trotted out one after the other with a wearying predictability.
Matters aren't helped much, either, by the appalling sight lines afforded by much of the Soho Theatre Upstairs: seats at teh back are elevated, but I advise avoiding the front three rows if you want to see any more of the actors than their heads and shoulders.