Dublin Carol at Andrew's Lane

A relatively short three-act play, Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson explores family life through the prism of alcohol abuse. The current production by the Everyman Palace Theatre group is handled with adroit care. Staged in the very small ‘theatre' section of Andrew's Lane in Dublin, it consists of no more than a fourth-wall viewing of a tiny funeral home office where the action takes place on a single Christmas Eve. The stage is set with cheerless Christmas decorations and dusty office materials: before the play even begins, the audience can feel the creeping sadness present in a hollow holiday period, broken in gloom, when a family has been exposed for too long to the darker aspects of reality. This gloomy interference never subsides throughout the play, and serves to highlight the comedic elements of the script as they burst into action. 

McPherson's subject matter is grim. He explores the only too real confines of a family reeling from the effects of their alcoholic father. John Plunkett (played by Liam Carney), an undertaker, moves from being a permanent fixture at the local early house to being an important feature of funeral direction, when his mercurial boss Noel is struck down with an illness. Fulfilling his required role as stand-in director, with the help of his boss's nephew Mark, John begins the day tense and excitable, clearly itching for the drink. McPherson records his protagonist's unsettled demeanour with caricatured comedy and focuses intermittently on the severe elements of John's shadowy inner demons.

The play script is broken up into three segmented acts. The first an introduction to John and Mark built on the manic central character. This is followed by the grim back story in the second act where John's daughter Mary (Vanessa Keogh) introduces an anguished wake-up call to her long-lost father. The final act is stored for John's redemption, or more completely, the searing question to all those mired in such a horrendous disease as alcoholism – can they save themselves?

Conor McPherson's talent is something to behold. His control of dialogue is masterful, exuding a complex cycle of gritty comedy and dark, immersing drama. This, one of his earliest stage successes, contains the complete range of his depth and the current production captures the spirit of the work.

Liam Carney is explosive as the fragile John, never at peace, endearing and furious all at once. His young co-performers, however, do not fully compliment his intoxicating portrayal, and occasionally choking off the substance of McPherson's rich vision when the theme reaches the edges of its conclusion. That said, Vanessa Keogh as Mary certainly does hold her own in the pivotal second act, goading the hyperactive John towards understanding the grim realties of his failed family life.

Taken altogether, Dublin Carol is another fine production from the Everyman Palace Theatre group and Andrews Lane and stands as further melancholy (not that it is needed) for the Dublin theatre-goers who watch the dissolution of one of the finest theatres in the city, if not the country. There are a number of further plays to complete in Andrew's Lane's farewell schedule and Dublin Carol has succeeded in setting the tone for a grand conclusion to an eventful career of staged theatrical productions.  

Next up in Andrews Lane is The Stuff of Myth, in the theatre from 17 April until 5 May, and A Pleasing Terror in the studio from 16-21 April. www.andrewslane.com