Wednesday, May 23, 2007

REVIEW: Gagarin Way (Andrews Lane Studio, Dublin)

Just who are the bad guys here? Gregory Burke’s breakthrough play concerns the midnight heist of computer chips from a grim Scottish factory. Or does it? Certainly the boot boys running the operation, Eddie (Ronan Leahy) and Gary (Jimmy Watson) look mad-eyed and menacing enough to put the boot in without too much pause for thought.

But still, there’s something here that doesn’t quite add up. Take Eddie, the bearer of the kind of smile that just screams “steer well clear”. He seems to know a surprising amount about the life and times of Jean-Paul Sartre, the alienation of the proletariat and the sociology of violence. Is he a gangster, a terrorist or just a keen reader? And who on earth does his mate in the leather coat think he is?

Burke’s sharply cut drama flirts with a host of genres, only steering totally clear of romance. The all-male show is predictably boisterous, with slaps (and whatever else is required) administered at will. As befits a Scottish take on Martin McDonagh, or indeed, Quentin Tarantino, violence is at the heart of the drama: the threat of it, constantly, the fact of it, eventually.

All of this proves to be a sleek vehicle for re-examining Scotland’s -- and indeed the rest of the world’s -- socialist history, as the certainties of comrades and party are ditched in favour of the alienated despondency of the depoliticised present.

The writing is the kind of stuff that sounds like a pleasure to act – even given the stretch of a stageful of Fife accents. The actors rise to the occasion with a succession of vivid and gruffly entertaining characterisations. Leahy’s wiry bruiser is a nasty treat, while Watson, as his deluded sidekick, squeezes some melancholia out of the would be killer. Gary Murphy as a “suit” mixed up in the mayhem, and Domhnall O’Donoghue, as an equally unfortunate security, guard offer able support.

Karl Shiels, whose productions with his own company, Semper Fi, have never shown much inclination to avoid violence and its aftermaths, guides Burke’s bloodbath expertly towards its predictably unpredictable conclusion.

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