Crazy

Without enough plot or pizazz to sustain its run-time, Brenda Murphy's country-tinged comedy unravels despite fizzing performances from its cast of three

The set is a comfortable, chintzy living room presided over by a large, green-tinged portrait of Patsy Cline. She hangs there like a benign She-Hulk grinning over the mantelpiece of the realistic gas-fire. Patsy is the household god in this house and, equally, the confessor of Ruby (Caroline Curran – Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue) whose desperate efforts to fling herself at Mr. Right are the play’s single motor.

As the action kicks off she has been heartbroken after meeting a Gambian man ('She was after the good life in Gambia,' 'A good ride more like it.'). Living with her is the flat’s owner, nice-guy former army nurse, Gary (Ciaran Nolan – Man on the Moon) who has had his toe blown off in Afghanistan and whose subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself as O.C.D.

This means that virtually every time he appears on stage Gary is plumping cushions, running a vacuum around or washing Ruby’s knickers. In fact he taking a big sniff of them  it’s that sort of play  when the third character bounds onto the stage, catching him in the act. This is Ruby’s ne’er do well cousin, Eddie (Marty Maguire – Chronicles of Long Kesh), a cheeky-chappy alleged former paramilitary, who now does something vaguely criminal with meat in the shed.

This is our unholy trinity, the (mechanically recovered) meat of the play. We know from the outset that Gary is desperately in love with Ruby and that Ruby, for all of her hand wringing meditations on love, is blissfully unaware that her Mr. Right is right under her nose. We also see that Eddie knows both these things but does nothing to intervene, staring on passively like a non-interventionist deity.

It is equally clear from the outset, from the tenor of the piece, exactly what is going to happen. Especially when Ruby reveals, apropos of nothing, that they’re looking for social workers in Australia and Gary looks crest-fallen.

In the mean time cousin Eddie suggests Ruby try some internet dating. This leads to a protracted scene where the two male leads dress up as Ruby’s dates – a rogue’s gallery of squinting, twitching perverts in dirty macs and crash helmets. 

To suggest that these scenes are played in broad strokes is to risk underselling largeness of the performances - the audience is not so much spoon fed as intravenously. This is not to the detriment of the cast who give vivid, fizzing performances throughout, punting each tortured line to the back of the hall.

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Ciaran Nolan, in particular brings a tense, nervous energy to the under-written role of Gary, the soppy clean-freak who can’t summon up the gumption to tell Ruby how he feels every time she takes her love to town. 

Is his missing toe a symbolic castration? Probably not. Sometimes a severed toe is just a severed toe. Caroline Curran is brassily effective in the role of Ruby, belting out Patsy Cline numbers with gusto and with increasing frequency in the scrappy second part of the show.

This second half is all over the place: lengthy sing-a-longs (with the audience joining in), a bit where Gary dresses up as Woody from Toy Story and arrives on stage to Randy Newman singing 'You’ve Got a Friend In Me'. There’s a bit with a hay-bale, Eddie dresses up as a woman and then a lot more singing.

I feel like I’m in the audience for Mrs Brown’s Boys. Worse, I feel like I’m in the audience for something that is auditioning to be a kind of Northern Irish Mrs Brown’s BoysThe audience, it has to be said, are really getting into the spirit of the thing: holding up the action by protracted 'Aah-ing' whenever Gary is thwarted in love and hooting at references to Jamie Dornan and 'Our Julian'. 

But I can’t help notice that the action dissolves into nothingness in the second half, meandering on far too long (two and a half hours including interval) and that the central conceit of Patsy Cline as a mother confessor figure, is never explained or alluded to. She’s just there as though every west Belfast woman would naturally confide in the portrait of a dead country star.

Crazy is bright and bouncing from the outset and boasts a few early zingers. But there’s not enough plot to sustain its run-time, it feels padded and meandering in the later scenes and ultimately unravels completely in a trite resolution.

In fact it seems like it’s named for the wrong Patsy Cline song. It should be called 'I Fall to Pieces'.

Crazy continues at The MAC, Belfast until June 14. For more comedy productions, musicals and more in Belfast and across Northern Ireland visit our What's On section.