Saturday, 4 July 2009

Cold Comfort, July 3, 2009 ****

 By Owen McCafferty, by BoomShanka Productions
Chapel off Chapel
First season: July 3 to 12, 2009, Chapel off Chapel
Return season Nov 28 to Dec 6, 2009 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 3, 2009

 Owen McCafferty’s play, Cold Comfort, has a profound, emotional impact despite its evident simplicity. 

The sole character, Kevin Toner (David Rock), is irrevocably flawed but his foolishness, errors, regrets and sense of loss are all symptoms of his humanity. He may be an emotional cripple and a drunken ruin but, through the bottom of his empty whisky bottle, we can see ourselves.

David Rock is compelling as Kevin and his twin brother, Brendan Rock, directs him without embellishment, keeping the focus on the inner and outer turmoil of Kevin. His performance is poignant without being sentimental. He is totally credible as the Northern Irish brickie returning to Belfast after a 15-year absence to be the sole mourner at his father’s funeral. McCafferty captures not only this sozzled, middle-aged man but all his aching nostalgia and childlike wistfulness that have lain dormant for decades.

Like sticky-beak neighbours peering through a window, we watch Kevin, wearing his father’s old suit, prowling around his Da’s living room, avoiding looking into the chipboard coffin where the old man lies. Kevin he relentlessly empties a Jamieson’s whisky bottle to lubricate his storytelling.

And what vivid stories he tells. McCafferty’s award-winning script is littered with Belfast idiom, expletives and drunken ramblings and Rock brings this vulnerable, shattered man to life. A character telling stories can feel contrived, but McCafferty provides a simple theatrical device. Rock, as Kevin, peoples the room with his absent family members.

He chats to his dead Da lying in his coffin – and we can hear the conversation as he demands explanations. A scruffy chair becomes his Ma and he grills her about why she abandoned him. Another chair is his wife and their sniping becomes audible. He invokes the “knowledge fairy” to give him what he craves – information. The entire event is geared to Kevin getting answers to questions that have plagued him his entire life.

Rock’s performance is painfully realistic. His eyes seem to glaze over and he stumbles over words and furniture as Kevin gets progressively drunker. Finally he tumbles to the floor and curls up like a sleepy child. Kevin’s wake is over but his tragedy is not. His questions will never truly be answered.

By Kate Herbert

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