The Theatreguide.London Review
Trafalgar Studio Two December 2011
What we have here is a very nice example of a play finding its theatre and its director a second time around.
When first seen at the Royal Court in 2000, Conor McPherson's three-hander seemed trying to build something big out of small people's experience and to call for a grand and virtuoso performance from its central actor. In the very intimate Trafalgar Studio Two, and with Abbey Wright's sensitive and unflashy direction, the small but thoroughly moving drama McPherson wrote is able to shine.
John is a 50-ish Dubliner and therefore, by definition, an alcoholic. He's a functioning alcoholic, holding down a responsible job and remembering to eat and sleep and wash, though it takes him the better part of a bottle of whiskey to get through the day.
This is a fairly recent development, because for much of his life he was a total falling-down drunk, and rather than being able to take much comfort or pride in the degree to which he has improved, he is haunted by memories and guilts for what a mess he was back then.
Director Wright and actor Gary Lydon make two things brilliantly and movingly clear here: that John is a very little man whose crimes and guilts are banal, but that they are very real and very large to him, and thereby create pain as overwhelming to him as the much larger and earth-shaking agonies of classical tragedy might be to a Lear or Oedipus.
Put another way, a small man feeling all the pain he can bear is in as much agony as a great man feeling all he can, and the small man carrying on under that burden is as heroic.
Lydon makes clear that John is no better at the end of the play than he was at the start – indeed, he may have slipped backwards a bit – but he exits with our respect, which we would not have guessed at the start that we'd give him.
The play is not perfect. McPherson has always been more comfortable with monologue than dialogue and the three characters here – there's also John's junior employee and his estranged daughter – generally speak at each other, rather than with or even to each other, taking turns pouring out their souls in lengthy and eloquent set pieces.
And the two secondary characters are underwritten, so that with the toning down of the portrait of John, they are correspondingly reduced to near-invisibility, neither Pauline Hutton or Rory Keenan able (or allowed) to do much with them.
If you've ever had doubts about Arthur Miller's famous dictum that the common man is as capable of tragedy as any classical hero, this beautifully-pitched revival of Dublin Carol may well convince you.
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Review - Dublin Carol - Trafalgar Studios 2011