Review by Stephen Porzio
The show begins with Connors’ James talking to the audience as if he’s at an AA meeting. From there, he recounts his upbringing in Coolock with mates Patrick and Robbie. While the tales of youth at first recall the funny stories one would hear in a pub from a mate – smoking weed and watching Kevin & Perry Go Large, ecstasy fuelled binges in Ibiza – we soon come to realise the drugs are a coping mechanism for our lead character. Not only is James’ life doomed, he and his family – including a grandfather abused in school in Letterfrack and parents torn apart from addiction – are victims of contemporary Ireland’s worst sins.
Where Cardboard Gangsters showcases Connors as a commanding leading man – helping anchor the chaotic but swaggery vibe of that thriller – Ireland’s Call highlights his storytelling skills. Focusing less on the crime elements and more on the central character’s emotions and affection for his loved ones, the play evokes the work of artists like Jacques Audiard or Tim Winton. It manages to radiate heart and warmth without dulling the edges of its utterly bleak, devasting yarn.
Connors is electrifying, hopping between joyous recollections and disturbing memories at a blink of an eye. The tonal changes seem like they should induce whiplash in audiences. et the confessional framing device laces the proceedings with constant dread. Even when recounting the good times, viewers know darkness is just around the corner.
Occasionally Connors’ reach exceeds his grasp. The play’s central monologue – a rally against the titular trad song – feels a tad on the nose. The events being described leading to the monologue seem artificial in comparison to the gritty realism Connors displays otherwise consistently. However, such a moment is forgiven because it is clear the actor and writer is furious with the state of modern Ireland. And it’s hard to disagree with why.
Runs until September 22nd