Can't Forget About You
David Ireland's 'raucous sexual comedy' has the Lyric audience in stitches, but there's more to it than simple innuendo
A young man is stricken by the loss of love, and his sister and mother rally round, trying to get him to take better care of himself, clean his flat, go to church and find somebody nice to replace the lovely Ciara he is pining for. Besides, the family never liked Ciara. She is a Catholic from the Falls Road.
The scene changes and Steve is in a cafe, reading a book. An older woman in a miniskirt comes in and, also reading, laughs at parts, attracts his attention. That attention first manifests as annoyance that she is distracting him, but quickly turns to curiosity about her.
She is Martha, a widow touching 50 who, eventually and apprehensively, invites Steve to have sex with her, because her therapist said she should go for what she wants out of life. And we are off, into David Ireland's raucous sexual comedy, currently running at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.
The publicity had warned of adult content, but here is sex without nudity. Martha (Karen Dunbar), under the duvet, has her bra and pants on. Steve (Declan Rodgers) is in his briefs. This compromises the sexual courage of the production and looks silly. But later, when the action gets hilarious, the comedy is built partly on how they dress up for sexual role playing, and that gets round the problem of them not actually being naked.
Without giving too much away, this play is about sex between a young man and an older woman, and the shock of the young man’s mother, not just at that age difference but at the actual sexual conduct of the couple, which disgusts her.
Sometimes the dialogue is extraordinarily clever and insightful. For instance, when first in bed together, Martha says to Steve, 'You have made this very easy for me,' which is a compliment to his sensitivity and consideration. He replies, 'You have made this very easy for me,' which alarms her because a woman does not want to be thought of as ‘easy’.
Can't Forget About You is a funny play with humour based on stark sexual frankness, and on the kind of absurdity arising from pretension that characterised Only Fools and Horses, for instance. In one scene, there is a strong resonance of one of Julian Sullivan's most famous plots.
At the interval, the audience carries the laughter into the bar, though an older couple mutter at a joke centred on cunnilingus. 'Not to everyone’s taste' could, perhaps, mean either of two things.
In the second half the audience is so buoyed up by the humour that it is probably difficult for the actors to make the transition to more serious tones. There are long discussions about sexual mores across the generations that are enthralling just by their frankness. It is brave for a man, David Ireland, to write the lines a woman would use to explain to her mother that oral sex is good, and that her brother’s use of his tongue is generous.
One of the funniest parts involves Rebecca (Abigail McGibbon), who is so Loyalist that she goes to Ulster Scots classes and seeks to share her language skills with Martha, who is, after all, from Scotland, the motherland. The language that she uses is the authentic sound of Ulster Scots that we hear from its most ardent adherents, and the audience roar with laughter. They could hardly have done otherwise.
Can’t Forget About You has its moments of wisdom and insight and political satire, but it is overwhelmingly a bawdy comedy, so funny in places that the more thoughtful and tender moments can easily be missed. It would be a great way to start off a hen night, and when words gets round, that’s how it is likely to be enjoyed.
Can't Forget About You runs in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until June 16.