Pearse Elliott's latest work is an entertaining if unwieldy beast set in the border area of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland
As witty titles go, Septic Tiger is not a bad one. Post-economic downturn drama, literature and film is all the rage at the moment, and Rawlife Theatre Company can be forgiven for jumping on that bandwagon with this play.
Set in a farm building on the North/South Irish border area, it focuses on three people caught up in a tense waiting game. The detailed set at the Grand Opera House, with its off stage cold room, is pitch-perfect as the common space in which uncommon, sinister things happen.
This play ought to make a change from the abundance of post-Troubles work we have been seeing for a decade or more, but the plot resonates rather too strongly with the bad old days of threatened violence and gratuitous profanity played for laughs.
Pearse Elliott is a talented writer, at his best in understated, unforced human scenarios. He has a facility with language which nevertheless sometimes gets in the way of true character development in this work.
Rawlife have assembled a strong cast for the three-hander, and they manage proceedings well despite the occasionally wordy and overblown dialogue. Vincent Higgens brings a mellifluous voice and sincere manner to the role of Valentine, unwilling accomplice to a kidnapping.
A butcher by trade, he is looking after Saoirse (Irish for ‘freedom’), the victim of a ‘Tiger Kidnapping’, called that by the thug known as Stoat, because it involves some stalking of prey. For his part, Stoat is a violent, foul-mouthed menace, although a childhood friend of gentle, erudite Val.
Clearly there is more to the situation than meets the eye, and Saoirse, in conversation with Val, begins to uncover the truth about these unlikely partners in crime.
It may be that Elliott is trying to present us with an Irish allegory here: the literate, educated peasant held in thrall to the wicked, money-grabbing opportunist with a post-modern Mother Ireland caught in the middle. There is just not enough care for realism in his approach to the characters, however, and often the dialogue jars and rings false.
Val tells Saoirse, for instance, that having children might 'ameliorate my modest existence' and acknowledges that 'a fresh pair of eyes can fashion sense from the malaise'. Clearly, he’s well-read and intelligent, yet refers more than once to the 'Pedrophiles' that he and Stoat killed in a particularly horrific manner.
For his part, Stoat is fluently filthy in his language, speaking rapidly and relentlessly with little other purpose than to elicit laughs from an audience pre-programmed to find the f-word and casual misogyny hilarious.
Saoirse, who repeatedly refers to her husband with a succession of vile adjectives, nevertheless waxes lyrical about the nobility of the human spirit in times of adversity. There is beauty in Elliott’s writing, but too often it falls into pretty or profane soundbites, without always serving character or plot.
The story itself loses its way, and Stoat and Val’s reason for holding on to Saoirse after a ransom has been paid is never adequately explained. The play’s shock ending is not entirely unexpected, though the pace of the final moments is well-judged.
Over all, Septic Tiger is an unwieldy beast, unsettling and entertaining without really telling us anything new about where we are, or where the tiger will hunt next.
Septic Tiger runs in the Grand Opera House, Belfast until June 14 before touring to Theatre at The Mill, Newtownabbey on June 18; June St Agenes Paris Hall, Andersonstown Road on June 19; Market Place Theatre, Armagh on June 20; Craic Arts Centre, Coalisland on June 21 and Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick on June 22.