Thursday, January 19, 2006

REVIEW:Homeland (The Abbey, Dublin)

Paul Mercier’s great strength as a writer and director is an ability to keep an eye on the entertainment value of his offerings, however strident their social critique. A Mercier play these days, like his latest, Homeland, seldom arrives without a fervent analysis of ‘where we are now’ – particularly when that we refers to ‘Dubliners’ – but also exhibits a humane attitude to the simple needs of an audience.

Like his previous show, Diarmuid and Grainne, Homeland takes a Celtic tale – this time the story of Oisin’s return from Tir na nog – and translates it to modern Ireland. In this case, the character of Oisin re-appears in the form of Gerry Newman (Liam Carney) a Dunlopian spin doctor-cum-lifecoach who has played (he keeps telling us) a big part in laying the foundations for the New Ireland.

Newman has been away and returns to a land of fellas keen to show you photos on their Motorola’s and wans who like nothing better than to bump ‘n’ grind with a shiny pole. When a flaxen-headed temptress robs him of every penny he owns, he is forced to get to know other strata of the country he helped to create, from its vast community of caricature comedy immigrants, to its junkies, nouveaus and born-agains.

There is plenty of good material scattered around Newman’s journey though his transformed homeland, and the tour is conducted with pace and energy. Things come alive particularly when fate transforms Gerry into a street preacher, bothering shopping centre patrons (with the help of the ever-ripening comic nous of David Pearse) calling everyone to join him on the road to salvation through a rasping battery amplifier.

The frenetic nature of the show sometimes appears to expose shortcomings in technique -- when it comes to moonwalking, Liam Carney is no Michael Jackson – with some performers appearing occasionally non-plussed by the physical style of acting the piece uses.

Homeland’s persistent flaw, however, is an unevenness which forces surprising images and ideas to rub shoulders too often with duller material. More than once in this road movie of a show a great image – such as the Night of the Living Dead-esque scene in which hoodied junkies surround the hero’s car – is pulled up short by the lifeless material that follows. Luckily enough, there is usually something better just around the next bend.

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