Time Flies

Four fun-size slices of comic theatre from C21

The latest comic confection from Belfast's C21 Theatre Company continues their notable tradition of unearthing obscure American writers, dusting them down and presenting them for the delectation of local audiences.

In the past we’ve had the pleasure of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries and James Kirkwood's PS Your Cat is Dead. Now it’s one-act wunderkind David Ives' turn to shine, with four sketches on love, life, language and a missed connection or two. 

C21 director Peter Quigley says that second to Shakespeare, David Ives is the most performed writer in the US. It’s easy to see why. Ives revels in language and wordplay, revealing the most tragi-comic aspects of our petty existences and relationships. Such ruminations succeed only if you make them funny or playful. And with a wildly idiosyncratic take on Ives, C21 deliver both. 

The writer's pithy, wordy vignettes are perfectly suited to C21’s frenetic, funny style. The title mini-play 'Time Flies' finds two courting mayflies accidentally discovering that they have only a day to live. The pair hilariously has sex, settles down and bickers. Their eventual acceptance of one other and their mortality is both amusing and touching. Great lines abound, not least the disturbingly lascivious 'I’ve wanted to palpate your proboscis all night'.

'No Problem' examines the improbability of two people getting together at all (let alone procreating) through the amusing device of having them correct and re-correct their conversational faux pas in a café, until they get it just right.

Would that we all had such an opportunity. It beautifully highlights the wonder of people finding shared ground and somehow, poignantly promotes tolerance for other people's foibles. The request 'Excuse me, is this seat taken?' has never been weighted with such import. 

'Arabian Nights' casts holiday romance as diplomatic mistranslation, and the final piece 'Universal Language' features language as a liberator, the medium that transcends difference. Here, Ives' writing explores and celebrates the rhythm of the spoken word. The affectionate, Esperanto-referencing gibberish he concocts in the new language Unamunda is a delight. Sly digs and references are scattered like breadcrumbs, with the word ‘stutter’ reinvented as ‘tonguestoppard’, and ‘English’ as ‘johncleese’. 

The cast all deliver spirited, compelling performances and rise to the material. Richard Clements and Rosie McClelland give virtuoso turns. For sheer verve, Clements' generic comedy Arab (part Groucho Marx, part souk-shark) raises a few eyebrows. Stephen Kelly provides able support throughout, particularly with his fabulous, credulous Mayfly. 

C21 must be applauded for introducing Belfast to Ives’ writing but also for how they present their own work. The audiences at a C21 performance are as diverse a crowd as you’ll see. This is thanks to their ability to demystify the process, simply by producing entertaining and accessible theatre. From the glamorous ‘cigarette girl’ shimmying across the stage with a card announcing each act to the local references that pepper the script, they bring their audiences with them for the whole performance. 

The key line is 'language is the opposite of loneliness'. It’s important because it reflects Ives' clear assertion that any communication is preferable to willful isolationism, but also C21’s capacity to bring theatrical outsiders into the fold. David Ives and C21 are a match made in Mayfly heaven. 

Joe Nawaz 

Time Flies is on at St Mary’s University College, Falls Road, Belfast, August 5-8 at 7.30pm. Click here for listings and booking information.