A Thought For Your Pennies, Theatre Review
By Conor O’Neill
Photography courtesy of Carrie Davenport
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, ‘I love deadlines, I love the sound of them flying over my head’. This is a retrospective review. A week and a bit old but as relevant as the night the pen hit the page. Illness and other little events prevented me from writing this earlier, but there is relevance of a kind for all lovers of theatre and especially those of you among us who think you’ve a play in you and need a production company to bring it to reality. The deadline for Tinderbox’s Take Away Theatre initiative is only three days away. Get redrafting and send yours in by August 16th. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. A Thought For Your Pennies, strange title, but as the hour long performance reveals bit by bit you’ll piece things together.
Belfast’s St Matthew’s Sports and Social Club sits neatly in a council estate in the east’s Short Strand. Red brick modern terraces are all around. Probably the most unlikely place I’ve seen a play. Again, Tinderbox Theatre Company refuse to conform to the norm and never fail to amaze me. Usually it’s by content, direction, innovation and other superlatives critics throw about like confetti. I’ve never been in the Short Strand before, and probably never would have unless something attractive lured me there. Any play with the Tinderbox touch is such a thing.
‘My granda, my hero, my trainer. My best mate’ and so begins Daniel Kelly’s telling of a tale you’ll long remember. Strange to think a collapse in the building industry would throw up one of Northern Ireland’s newest talents. This one man play is the first actor Kelly has penned. I’ve watched many a one actor show, but I think this may just be the first to be written by the one on stage. I say stage, yet there isn’t one. A U-shape of seats surround a dance floor. Reminiscent of the Hibernian club in my hometown of Lisburn. The best thing is this is as far from Luvvieland as any where in Belfast. Put simply, people are here to see, not to be seen.
The first thought is ‘ah, a play about boxing’ but there’s more than that going on here. Not all fighting is done with the fists. Daniel Kelly’s intro in the program states the play is, ‘…largely based on aspects of my real life living with my Grandmother and dealing with her battle with dementia, as well as my Grandfather’s and my own boxing past’. With an ever growing, ageing population, Kelly’s tale is certain to resonate with many. As part of the Eastside Arts Festival, many theatre companies have brought quality shows to part of the city not normally associated with theatre. As condescending as that may sound it’s also simply the truth.
The set up is pretty simple. A one man show but with enough characters to keep it far from a monologue. Kelly cleverly uses boxing as a metaphor about the fight against dementia. Not only does he describe the fight of the person trying to carve out an existence against this terrifying illness, but the fight of the nearest and dearest who have to watch the decline and how it impacts more than just the sufferer. How to write a eulogy to both Grandmother and Grandfather? Kelly immerses both figures into one.
I know very little about boxing, but have always had a penchant for subcultures’ endearing acronyms, nouns and saying. His Grandfather had ‘42 fights, and many more on the streets’, ‘leading nicely to the term TGIF. In boxing circles also known as ‘Toes, Go In First’. As weighty as the subject matter may be, there’s laughter; there’s the getting caught practising kissing in the mirror scene, ‘Ah sure the tide wouldn’t take you out.’ Music and lighting play huge roles; a trademark of director Patrick J. O’Reilly and Tinderbox’s work.
I’d love to see the script submitted and the blue ink of the editor, notes on the sides of the paper. Isaac Gibson’s choice of songs and sound effects add, but only when necessary. Alan Mooney’s lighting again is perfectly selected. As fight scenes are intertwined with the daily life of living with someone who has pissed himself once again, tried to wash clothes in the microwave or talking to someone, ‘vacant…it’s like watching the sun deciding to stop shining’. Kelly’s love for his grandparents is only matched by his hatred of dementia.
An acclaimed director, a talented lighting designer, nor an award winning sound designer didn’t go out and acted like his life depended on it. Many actors talk about getting into a role. Daniel Kelly didn’t need to.
I’m told this play is to tour, and it’s a perfect piece to bring to small venues. If you see it advertised, grab your chance of watching this moving, funny and valuable piece of theatre.
For more info on the Take Away Theatre initiative visit http://www.tinderbox.com