Days of Wine and Roses

Brendan Deeds experiences Owen McCafferty's tale of liquor and lust

You know your life is in bad shape if you go to Belfast for some peace.

At the close of Days of Wine and Roses, a jaded and defeated emigrant, old before his time, flees a life in degradation for a second chance at home.

After 100 minutes of watching two people self-destruct, watching love turn into violence and celebration give way to squalor, an audience will take any hopeful ending it can get.

As this broken man leaves for a Belfast on the verge of 30 years of conflict, we know all too well that he won't find peace for a long time.

This is how the play ends, and that may not sound too appealing. But here’s three reasons why you should go and see this play: actors Fergal McElherron and Gemma Mae Halligan, and playwright Owen McCafferty.

Donal and Mona meet in Aldergrove airport in 1962. They are both leaving to start a new life in London but as the naive and impulsive Mona is given a sip from Donal's hipflask, we see a thirst in her eyes for more than just his kisses.

During their eight years in London, they marry and prosper but the drink soon becomes more important than their marriage, careers, or even their son. What was once a sip of celebration is now their daily drug and the couple's beautiful new life spirals into self-destructive squalor.

Donal: We used to walk about London all the time…We were always healthy, fit, bright as two shiny buttons. People used to look at us like we were movie stars. I used to imagine that we didn’t walk, we glided. Now, all we do is stumble. It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Mona: We have a laugh. That’s what we have, a laugh.
Donal: We’re alcoholics.
Mona: Don’t use that word. Don’t ever use that word.

Originally a teleplay by JP Miller, and later a feature film starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses benefits greatly from McCafferty’s talents.

Transplanting the play from New York to London seems completely natural and McCafferty's use of comedy works well within the confines of an otherwise claustrophobic tale.

The legendary racehorse Arkle functions as a symbol of Donal’s dreams of Irish glory in an adopted land, and is referenced all too often in the play.

This is a slight flaw, although one that provides a moment of accidental comedy.

When a teary-eyed Donal exclaims that Arkle has died, this symbolic death knell reflects the death of Donal and Mona’s ambitions, and has the audience in fits of laughter.

Director Roy Heayberd brings his own talents to bear on this production.

When Donal faces the audience as he makes his introduction, and excuses, at his first AA meeting, it is an arresting moment.

Similarly, allowing us to watch the actors change costume onstage reminds the audience that the play is a work of fiction, a pretence, no more real than the lies and half-truths the alcoholics use to hide behind to mask an often vile reality.

The performances are powerful, layered and precise. Halligan never lets us forget that even as Mona is selling herself for her addiction, she remains a naïve, vulnerable girl.

Her Mona is both damaged and damaging. This is a deeply moving and delicately nuanced performance.

McElherron never puts a foot wrong. He captures every facet of the complexities of Donal‘s character. Donal is smart and confident but blinkered and restless. Balanced on a razor’s edge, he can be charming one moment and shockingly violent the next. His delivery encompasses the extremes of Donal's personality with ease.

Heart-breaking, exhausting, but never less than enthralling, this is a powerful production that lovers of good theatre should not miss.

In Days of Wine and Roses, McCafferty shows us, with beauty and skill, the dark heart that beats within failed love, the twisted pathology of the alcoholic and the sorrow of the Irish immigrant experience.