Home Boy Home

Eamon Friel enjoys Scott Marshall's debut at the Derry Playhouse

What a fine performance venue Derry’s Playhouse is. Watching Scott Marshall’s Home Boy Home reminds me of its many strengths, its excellent acoustics and engaging intimacy. During the summer I saw Pat Lynch’s bravura performance of Owen McCafferty's one-act plays Damage Done and I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me there. Lynch was lamenting his increasing physical infirmity on stage. A woman in the audience was heard whispering to a companion, 'He could always get the DLA.'

Scott Marshall is no stranger to the theatre - he has been a director, performer, writer and adjudicator - but Home Boy Home is his first full length play. Set in a contemporary Derry, the tragedy of the city’s recent past is a brooding presence throughout.

A family gathers for the funeral of their father but it is the arrival of an old neighbour that heralds a series of revelations that gives the play its dynamic. We learn that one of the daughters is an alcoholic. The only son, a priest, has a secret or two as well and the old neighbour is now a British army major in mufti.

Home Boy Home owes its success to the skill with which Marshall has drawn his characters - each one a flesh and blood individual. The first act is divided into three scenes and the final scene, when daughter and major warily spar over the dregs of a bottle of Bushmills, is a fine piece of writing. The thread of the prayer, the Hail Mary, which recurs intermittently through the play turns out to be the fuse wire which delivers the dramatic denouement.

But there are problems too, especially the use of flashback to progress the narrative. We see the two principal characters as children, played by child actors. Oisin McCauley and Owen Bradley are both very good in these roles, but the hearty hokum of their lines worries me - do any children really speak like this?

Similarly the five adults are given lines that often stretch the limits of believability. Do the real bourgeoisie actually always speak in complete sentences? Their constant eloquence is wearing and the subplot in the second act involving the daughter’s absent husband is unconvincing and unnecessary, given the strength of Marshall’s story and characters.

Marshall has been blessed with a great cast, all of whom play a blinder. The striking set by Joe Connolly is up to his usual excellent standard, whilst Gerry McLaughlin, the director, deserves credit for extracting performances from one and all.

Home Boy Home is now on tour and can be seen at the Alley Theatre in Strabane on the December 10.