Here Comes the Night

There's no time like the present as Rosemary Jenkinson's clever and well-acted culture comedy finds firmer footing in the more modern of its two narratives

A brick wall fills the stage for Rosemary Jenkinson’s new play for the Lyric’s large stage. In the middle of that wall is a large opaque window and there is a light on behind it – so somebody’s home.

After a short place-setting exercise - Pathé newsreel footage of the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising, plus some crowd-pleasing Motown and the play’s title, rather wittily typed across the window pane on a battered Olivetti, we know exactly where we are: Belfast, the mid-sixties and the shabby looking chap in Rising Damp chic revealed as the wall pulls back is writer Vincent Gallagher (Michael Condron).

And what a writer. As he reels off a newly completed patch of purple prose, he thinks again. 'Condense! Condense!' he cries. Well we’ve all done it – unless we’re being paid by the word. Freddie, the Postman, and the closest thing to a friend that Catholic Vincent has in East Belfast, has a rather different take on writing: 'It’s like walking – it’s just a case of putting one word in front of the other!'

Despite declaring himself a real 'man of letters', Freddie has precious little interest in the world or words: he’s far more interested in combing his hair, filching Vincent’s whiskey and making time with Vincent’s sister-in-law, Jenny, (Susan Davey), an art student, who cuts the rug with a palette knife.

Making up this co-dependent quartet is Mary (Kerri Quinn), Vincent’s heavily pregnant wife and the only one bringing any money into the house, while her husband nips whiskey with the postman and her sister dances to Kinks records. She bears the burden of responsibility with the serene smiles of a willing martyr.

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The play easily achieves one of the aims of good writing: everybody wants something. Vincent wants vindication for his work, Freddie wants Jenny, Jenny wants to get away to London and Mary just wants a safe and secure home for her child. But this is drama, baby, don’t think for a minute any of them are going to get what they want. At least not in the way they expect.

There are lulls: Mary mentions a man from the Ormeau Road losing an arm in a car bomb. 'Arm-eau Road' Vincent witlessly interjects, flapping an elbow. It's one of a few oddly under-nourished wise-cracks littering a script which otherwise flashes with brilliant exchanges, full of salty wit. A shame when the actors' performances are so energetic and physical.

The singing and dancing sequences seem slightly over-egged too, an unnecessary padding. The songs only slightly accent the action and neither they nor the accompanying grooving add much to the production other than running time.

Things pep up considerably in the second half. And this really is a play of two halves. If part one is boxed in, narrow, sentimental and grounded in a sense of life being lived on the latch, the second is a broader farce, literally: they knock a wall through.

The present seems to be a much more comfortable place to be, though perhaps not for protagonist Marta (Susan Davey), a Pole working on a committee to welcome Syrian refugees to Belfast. Her husband, Jim (Condron again) is actually making a living from a keyboard this time, through computers, and Freddie is reborn the guise of lovable loafer Dean.

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The satire comes on a bit heavy to start with (craft beer has rather self-consciously replaced whiskey) but it is here that Jenkinson plays her cleverest card. If the protagonists of the first half fear an angry mob, it is an altogether more progressive one that descends on the tenants fifty years later. Vincent Gallagher is 'a victim of the dominant historical narrative' and must be remembered and lionised, while Marta and Jim are about to get steam-rollered, out of veneration to a forgotten hero of the past.

Boyd McClean (Niall Cusack, on cracking form) from the Ulster Historical Society wants to put a blue plaque outside the house to commemorate Vincent Gallagher’s work. All of this was arranged with the previous tenant but Jim and particularly Marta are nervous. A Polish business nearby has been burned out and Marta, both Catholic and foreigner is keen to keep a low profile.

This becomes increasingly impossible once Culture Minister Donna Ni Duineachair becomes involved. Thrusting and volumised, this is a Culture Minister by way of dynasty, and if the satire again appears to have put on a few pounds (a famous gaffe by an actual Culture Minister is attributed to Donna) it’s easily forgiven.

The acting throughout this play is superb. All the cast are excellent. Susan Davey, as flighty Jenny and sober and sensitive Marta, has the most to do, and acquits herself brilliantly. Her quiet, nervy turn could easily have become lost against the second half’s larger performances, but in fact she is the fulcrum of the play, the quiet, steady centre. Thomas Finnegan is also fantastic throughout: tiggerish and vigorous, bouncing around the stage, copping attitudes and tapping drinks, and stealing all the laughs.

Here Comes the Night is a cleverly constructed and beautifully acted comedy with a serious message to impart, encapsulated by one of the characters quite neatly: 'Around here the past always comes back to bite you on the arse.'

Here Comes the Night runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until Saturday, May 14. For more information and ticket booking visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk.