The Last Summer at the Gate Theatre, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, revolves around two summers in the life of Paul Taylor, played by both Declan Conlon and Sam McGovern. Yes, it actually revolves because the stage, reminiscent of a record on a turntable, is a rotatable disk. Considering the stage is pretty much a giant LP, nostalgia for a bygone era is inevitable. Unlike a classic album, the rotating stage offers entertainment in overdone, schmaltzy morsels like a lazy susan at a bad Chinese restaurant.
Playwright and Author, Declan Hughes creates a simplistic and sentimental interplay between past and present. For Hughes, the seventies are just young men outfitted in double-denim boisterously clambering over walls with guitars strapped to their backs. While the noughties are portrayed as middle-aged men listening to iPods in casually unbuttoned striped shirts. To further define these two eras in which the play is set, nostalgic cultural references are clumsily inserted into the dialogue, such as the overly repeated aphorism: Girls love Steely Dan.
In the dizzying excitement of a spinning stage, bell-bottoms, and guitar heavy transition music, any depth of character is lost. Paul Connaughton, playing the adolescent character of Tom Groves, the funny fat friend, spends his first two scenes eating onstage. Yet, in an attempted escape from the predictable, the scene in which the female protagonist’s clitoris is discovered under a beach towel is an awkward attempt at supposedly provocative humor, which fails to offer true climax.
The second act tries to provide an insightful portrayal of Celtic Tiger Ireland, yet is reduced to glib remarks about the real estate market. The line, “the fundamentals are sound” is repeated several times knowingly as a subtle nudge to the audience that ACTUALLY THE FUNDAMENTALS WERE NOT SOUND AND NOW THERE IS A RECESSION. Cathy Belton, in a feat of remarkable perseverance, provides a truly graceful performance and gives dignity to a character whose only seeming identity comes from clutching a Brown Thomas bag.
The Last Summer, with its nostalgic soundtrack and dad jokes, would make an excellent RTÉ mini series, but is not relevant on a stage, not even a rotating one.