Theatre Review: The Thing About December

The Thing about December is an original stage adaptation of Donal Ryan’s acclaimed novel of the same name. It was written by Jarlath Tivnan with the collaboration of Andrew Flynn (director of Decadent theatre). 

The play is paced through the progression of the months of the year, finalising of course with December. The ease in which the characters moved through the seasons was facilitated by the lighting, costume and sound. The lighting (Mike O Halloran) created a multi-dimensional space on stage, utilising the back walkway which allowed the cast members portraying the characters of the community to exist as a reflection of Johnsey’s inner thoughts. The simple staging of a family cottage transports us into rural Ireland and is a constant reminder to the audience that this play is about family, the importance of it, and Johnsey’s lack of it.  

The play is ultimately a struggle for a young man to exist in the world without the stability and comfort of his parents. Johnsey Cunliffe (Ruairi Heading) is a naïve boy in his early twenties who is struggling with grief after losing both his parents and who is isolated for being too ‘soft’. When Johnsey is asked to sell his family’s land so that it can be developed, his reluctance stems from his lack of confidence in decision making. His unwillingness to part with the security of his father’s property gains him unwanted attention and creates a battle between progression and development against familiarity.

With no friends to support him, his grieving is seen as a weakness in the community. A victim of constant bullying, Johnsey wakes up in hospital with only the lovely voice of Siobhan (Maeve Fitzgerald) for comfort, who quickly becomes a fixture in his life along with Mumbley Dave (Jarlath Tivnan). Heading and Tivnan’s comedic timing is exceptional and is the comedic relief the audience need in the play. Dave’s sense of confidence and perseverance to be Johnsey’s friend allow us to forget the devastation of the Johnsey’s grief. The unlikely trio of Johnsey, Dave and Siobhan are tied through their own loneliness and the audience can never be sure of anyone’s motivations.

A play never meant for the stage has truly found a home there. A refreshing new play about rural Ireland that is as equally contemporary and relatable as it is traditional.  

Review by Grace Byrne

The Thing About December’ plays at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway until Saturday, 22nd June. Tickets available here 

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