New theatre company Ramblinman state that their very ethos is to tell stories. Thus, it is fitting that True West, a story essentially about telling stories, is their debut production. Indeed, Sam Shephard’s play could almost be a treatise on the art of writing itself-the instinctive and primal versus the intellectual and rational. Siding with Austin’s exactitude over Lee’s passion is all a matter of personal taste.
Lee and Austin are two very different types of brothers. Lee is a screaming headache of a man who bullies people into believing he’s interesting, whilst Austin is a nervous Ivy-Leaguer with an aptitude for words. Into their already fractured lives enters television producer Saul, sleazier than a used-car salesman and twice as oily, who promises them the Hollywood equivalent of the sun, moon and stars for individual scripts. Saul praises Austin’s intelligence, whilst simultaneously celebrating Lee’s grittiness and self proclaimed ‘real life experience.’ What develops is a frequently hilarious reversal of fortune as the brothers explore their own limitations.
A Sam Shephard script is never an easy task. Physically demanding with language that often leans heavily on lyricism, evoking Shephard’s west is generally a lot more difficult than sticking on a Stetson and shouting ‘Yee-ha.’ Luckily, the young cast of True West handle it with aplomb. Jamie O’Neill as Austin is fantastically contained, gently conveying his seething jealousy at Lee’s ‘grab everything you can get and go’ lifestyle. Cillian O’ Gairbhi as Lee is louder, more imposing but no less in impressive in depicting his character’s nuances. Essentially a two-hander, both actors create enough chemistry to suggest underneath a certain violence, there may be a slight glimmer of fraternal love. Roger Gregg as Saul is so slimly convincing that when he sells dreams, it’s rather hard not to buy them. The direction is capably handled, the restricted space adding to, and not taking away from, the tension of the piece. The set is wonderfully meticulous, as rich and detailed as Shephard’s language. As the play slides into absurdity, it maintains its clever and frantic energy until the bitter denouement.
Ramblinman theatre company have seemingly sprung from nowhere, fully-formed, onto the Irish theatre scene. To quote Lee, ‘There’s other people got ideas too, ya know.’ Ramblinman have proved not only have they got ideas, but the skill and talent to execute them properly.