views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars
White Bear Theatre
14th October 2012

★★★★☆

Damien Tracey and Gregory Finnegan in The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars

Photography supplied by Three Streets Productions

The title of Conall Quinn's superb work encapsulates the entire play perfectly. It's a romantic yet utterly absurd turn of phrase with layers and layers of meaning the more you care to ponder it. A surreal piece, it wears its influences on its sleeve but is also original, fresh and very funny.

Set during The Emergency in Ireland, we meet alcoholic daydreamer Henry (Gregory Finnegan). He's slightly slow-witted if well meaning yet, as is traditional, speaks with passion, in laboured half-drunk metaphors that both illuminate and befuddle. Working alongside the cynical pseudo-intellectual Edward (Damien Tracey) he's stationed at a lookout post, with the intention of defending Ireland. In reality, the pair are simply stealing from the washed-up corpses. When a local girl, Alice (Claire Fraenkel) falls in love with one of the dead airmen, Dumas (Paul Hayward), a bizarre love triangle forms and existential quandaries unfold.

The Beckett influence can be seen almost immediately. While there is actually a narrative here, the setting - Clogherhead Beach - never changes and the implication, like that of Didi and Gogo's predicament, is that neither does the situation. Henry drinks, fires some flares, Edward steals some cash, and they have been living their lonely existence and will continue to do so. Until the unpredictable Alice, played with childlike vigour by Fraenkel, pierces the non-action and Dumas comes crashing down.

What follows is part black comedy, part satire (the dead airmen now becoming in vogue for the women of the town) and part treatise on humanity's drive to find love, companionship and wish fulfilment no matter how inappropriate. It's a tricky balance to strike, but Quinn's script and the excellent performers know exactly when a lightness of touch is needed, and when to go for the jugular to make a joke work.

In particular, Finnegan's Henry is charmingly naive and truly sweet, despite his drinking problem and love of flare guns. His relationship with Tracey's Edward provides the lion's share of the gags, in a bleak, funhouse mirror distortion of a Laurel and Hardy film. Tracey does a sterling job of making Edward initially unpleasant and slowly revealing his truly vile nature until the play's climax.

Claire Fraenkel and Paul Hayward in The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars

Photography supplied by Three Streets Productions

Despite the surrealism and wit (which sometimes borders on Douglas Adams), there is a heap of tenderness thanks to Fraenkel's adorable portrayal of the broken Alice. Like a petulant child, she runs away from home, even though there's no one keeping her there. Starting out as ditzy and idiosyncratic, it's her character arc that provides the driving force for most of the production, as her tragic past is made apparent. At the quieter points, she and Finnegan bounce off each other beautifully in tender moments of stolen glances. She's a magnetic and warm presence, even if Fraenkel's accent breaks from time to time.

Hayward and Dominic Ridley do a great job of literally corpsing on stage and although Dumas doesn't feature as much as the main trio, he still feels well rounded and sufficiently tragic. His final speech especially is delivered to great effect, doubly so when it is later mirrored by Henry.

Director Alice Malin has paid attention to the smaller details and it shows, right down to each character's fully-rounded physicality. Making the most of a tiny space, the action is well blocked, clear and determined but this necessary economy never seems too rigid or forced. A couple of violent scenes have their impact slightly lessened due to there being no distance between the performers and audience, but they are so unexpected that they still retain a fair emotional whack.

Quinn has emerged as one of Ireland's most exciting new voices, if you believe the hype. And in this magical staging of his fanciful, sharp script, it's almost impossible not to.

The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars ran from 2nd to 21st October 2012 at the White Bear Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Kennington (Northern)



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