Pintsized Productions tackle Dougal Irvine's raunchy musical
There are few more unedifying sights than a crowd of lager louts on the rampage in a Spanish resort, falling down drunk, talking dirty, boasting and bragging about real or imagined sexual conquests and record-breaking feats involving copious quantities of cheap booze.
Burnt to a frazzle, hungover and hollow eyed, they are hardly an attractive advertisement for the country's tourist industry which, nevertheless, is heavily dependent upon them.
JB, Jordan, Pete and Ross announce themselves as 'Brits on tour'. These four likely lads from London are kicking their heels at Malaga airport, waiting for a long-delayed flight. The offending airline is Ryanair, a fact that offers mischievous opportunities for satirical humour, not lost on audiences on this island.
Slagging each other unmercifully, the boys look back at the escapades of the past week through a haze of mindless sex and alcoholic excess. Dougal Irvine's award-winning musical swiftly sketches out in broad brushstrokes the respective backgrounds and personalities of this mismatched quartet.
This raucous rites-of-passage musical play sees the friends firmly entrenched in the departure lounge of their lives. Their wild oats sown, they are returning from what is probably their last holiday together, with the ordeal of exam results and university careers looming ahead of them.
The four could hardly be more different as individuals. Director Gerard McCabe's casting for this Irish premiere by Pintsized Productions rather over-emphasises that fact, with a group of actors ranging in age and experience from mature young professionals to raw newcomers. Still, Darren Franklin, Adam Dougal, Gerard Kelly and Gavin Peden make a reasonable fist of carving out their contrasting identities.
Franklin pulls off a lively turn as JB, the acknowledged leader of the gang. On the surface, he is brash, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed, brimming with testosterone. In reality, he is the insecure child of wealthy but uncaring parents, who has been expelled from his expensive public school and sent to the local comprehensive.
There he meets the cool, good-looking Jordan, whose barely concealed homosexuality does not prevent him being a terrific hit with the girls. Dougal constructs a convincing sensitivity out of the bare bones of his characterisation and though the audience may have guessed his little secret long before, the reactions of his mates to his blurted confession make for a nicely shaped moment.
Gerard Kelly as troubled Pete, who has lived in foster homes most of his life, and Gavin Peden as Ross, a nerdy little brainbox, gamely draw on their more limited stage experience to fill out their respective roles.
Irvine's dialogue ricochets briskly around the stage, peppered with laddish expletives, sexual gestures and obscene but friendly insults. It's all pretty standard stuff, which, when it runs out of steam – as it does from time to time – is rescued by a terrific score, efficiently marshalled by Morgan Crowley and niftily played by guitarists Franklin, Kelly and Peden.
The sung harmonies are less successful than the instrumentals, however, though accomplished vocalists Franklin and Dougal do their level best to keep the harmonies on track. And that's important, as it is through the songs that the storyline and shifting personal relationships really develop, as each character reveals his inner preoccupations, hopes and fears.
The cast is completed by Kathryn Rutherford in a series of rather thankless roles, which constitute the Everywoman of the piece. She is Scarborough girl Sophie, the collective object of all four sexual fantasies, who has a brief fling with Pete but draws the line at relieving young Ross of his virginity. She is a random Spanish tourist, struggling with a heavy suitcase, an oversized package and an unflattering mini-skirt.
Most amusingly, she is an exasperated Ryanair stewardess, who just wants these four layabouts to board the plane and get the hell out of Malaga. A trained singer, Rutherford's musical interventions also serve to create a series of softly-lit imaginary scenarios, in which each of the guys relives what might have happened in a series of extremely unromantic encounters.
This piece is a good choice for Pintsized, whose raison d'être is to give opportunities to young theatre professionals. It is not the most inspiring production of the company's four year existence, but, under McCabe's disciplined direction, each cast member does a credible take on the Estuary English accent and together they deliver the requirements of Irvine's dramatic set-up.
The language and content may not be to the liking of every audience member, but from beneath the superficial bravado emerge four surprisingly rounded young men, joined in genuine friendship and exuding an exuberant good humour, which is both likeable and infectious.
Departure Lounge runs in the Baby Grand Studio, Grand Opera House, Belfast until October 12. For over 15 audiences only.