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The New Irish Playbook
Etcetera Theatre
31st July 2018

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The New Irish Playbook

Photography provided by Little Shadow Theatre Company

An ensemble of nine from Little Shadow Theatre bring us New Irish Playbook, a series of sketches aimed at making us look deep into our souls and asking a few questions. Have I got my priorities right? Is this what life/love/family is really about? Is everything ultimately a bit tragic? I do love a good cynical take on things, and Joe O'Neill's production certainly delivers on that, planting us in various situations ranging from the uncomfortable to the downright hair-ripping - from being chucked out of your family home for being "who you are" to the nightmarish scenario of knowing all about your child's life before the birth, in excruciating detail. It's part-comedy, part-introspection, part-existential crisis of all humanity.

t's a lot to fit in, but part of Playbook's strength is that it can be taken on more than one level - if you're just after a laugh then you've got one, delivered by talented actors. If you're suffering a little ennui yourself, you'll find comfort that someone else has thought of it and made a show about how silly it all is. Or if you just enjoy some dark humour about other people's misfortune and you're one of those with no self-awareness and don't see yourself in any of it, we're sure you'll enjoy it anyway.

Adam Tyrrell plays a good man breaking some difficult news in opening sketch Coming Out. You do feel his discomfort as his character Sean stands there, searching for the right words. (Though Tyrell is at his most convincing as a damaged soul later on in I'm The Hero). Kieran McDonnell is believable as a father; passionate and loyal (just about the wrong things, obviously). Mary-Pat Moloney, despite having only a couple of lines, delivers genuine warmth and concern as the mother, proving that bit parts are anything but if done well. Whilst Conor Hanley is at his best as the boyfriend, his delivery could do with toning down as the romantic in the final sketch, In The Garden of the Engagement - fixed facial expressions like that are not necessary to convey sadness if everything else is in place.

Jasmin Glesson and Ben Cooper give us food for thought with their rollercoaster ride of an exchange, both believable as idiotic boyfriend and under-entitled girlfriend. There's more baby-related drama in Our Child, with Hanley and Kendal Kennedy bickering over their future son. O'Neill himself has us wanting to scrape our nails down a blackboard in Ignorance In Riches, though rather generic as the doctor in the play beforehand. Finally, Lesley Moore brings us a suitably belligerent and impulsive portrayal to set against Hanley's uptight romantic.

All of the six sketches carry a message to take away and this is delivered thoroughly. However, there is a danger in being thorough. I couldn't help feeling that all of them could carry the exact same message in a shorter space of time - sometimes less is more, and a wise director knows when not to roll things out too much. The audience can fill in the gaps, and they often appreciate the chance to do it. Kevin Russell, who directs Twenty Minutes Waiting and O'Neil, who directs, well, everything else, just need to tighten up the action. A little less slack and it would all feel immediately more polished.

The main criticism though is none of what makes up Playbook is revolutionary stuff. Ironic takes on coming out, the general shitness of men when it comes to romance, unhealthy obsessions, how it's best not to know the future, how the privileged can be socially stupid, and how we can go about love totally the wrong way - it's all rather familiar. Gentle laughs of recognition are earned rather than the kind of surprised, deep belly laughs that leave the audience gasping for air.

The New Irish Playbook is a confident production with plenty of perfectly enjoyable moments, the characters relatable through the ridiculous plots. We all know someone who's only a little less deluded; hell it might even be us. For next time though - the company need to shove that boat out. They could come up with more daring material, pushing at the boundaries of social commentary rather than aiming safely down the middle. After all, it's hard to be too avant-garde at the Camden Fringe and the company have strong enough actors to take more chances with the writing. This is a good show with all the promise of an even greater one.

The New Irish Playbook opened on 30th July and runs until 2nd August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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