They say your teenage years are the best years of your life. And for Barry, Pa, and Cusack, the chance to relive those glory days comes just once a year – the anniversary of their friend Liam’s suicide.
Meeting up in what appears to be a shed or a garage, with flickering lights, littered cans, and mothy furniture, the guys indulge in a game of darts, recount stories of the past, and binge on drink and drugs.
Echoing the kind of banter that we all remember the lads in our school engaging in, it not only adds a humorous element to the dialogue, but a touch of discomfort for the audience when they realise ‘jeez, these men are in their 30s and still enjoy acting like kids’.
From meeting them, we know that they have very real problems to be worrying about. Cusak (Conor Madden) is feeling overwhelmed by family life, constantly stressing over bills and savings and whether he is a good father. Barry (Colin Campbell) has just discovered his partner of 11 years has been cheating on him, just as they were preparing for a big move to London. And Pa (Rhys Dunlop) has just found himself homeless, with no plan or inclination of what lies in store for him.
Together, and through the play’s exquisite dialogue (written by John O’Donovan), ‘Flights’ takes on a fresh approach to the ‘man in mid-life crisis’ story arc. What allows it to become so engaging is the play’s self-awareness. The characters themselves understand that they have become what they always feared becoming. Stuck. Defeated. Alone.
Barry speaks about how his job at Dublin Airport has seen him see thousands, if not millions, of young people, setting off for a better life. And it is Pa who reminds him that those who moved away are also struggling. Set to the soundscape of a stormy weekend night (sound design by Peter Power), the play has such an atmospheric quality to it, that helps fill the spectator with a perpetual dread.
Whilst the action wavers off course from time to time, it is always brought solidly back to the memorial of their friend Liam – who they consider lucky for leaving the world so young. This opens up a whole discussion around the rhetoric around suicide in Ireland, and how much shame is brought damage that can bring to a family, a friend group and a community.
One line, which I’ll paraphrase, stick with the audience well after they leave the auditorium. That apart from hurling, ‘topping oneself’ is the nation’s favourite pastime.
‘Flights’ is a harrowing piece of theatre that sets out to make you laugh, cry, and reflect on your outlook of your own life.
Review by Kevin Worrall