31 Hours, Theatre Review
By Conor O’Neill
PintSized Productions is new to me. Their mission statement is simple and direct. “Pintsized is emerging professionals collaborating with established artists and engaging audiences.” PintSized Productions is the only professional theatre company in North Belfast.
Director, Nuala Donnelly, whose work stems mostly around the socio-political, states in the play’s program, “I was slowly becoming aware of a male suicide epidemic… I felt as an artist who has the ability and capacity to make some sort of change, no matter how small, I had a duty of care to address what is going on.”
Every 31 hours someone in the UK throws themselves in front of a train. Food for thought.
A tiny stage, upstairs in The American Bar, Samson and Goliath are in sight. Capacity, 30, maybe 40 at a push. 3pm on the button four male actors come through the audience of roughly 18, all dressed in high-vis orange. One peels off the jumpsuit to reveal civvies beneath. Neil (Mathew Blaney) is interviewed on the possibly of working on the railways and what it entails.
Apart from the high-vis, safety helmets and headtorches no other props are required. At times all of the four on stage act as train carriage seats, railway sleepers, stamp their feet to imply a highspeed train is coming through. From the off this is part play with an important message, at others part public information announcement. The facts all check out correct according to the Office for National Statistics. 75 per cent of all suicides in the UK are male. Those aged between 45 and 49 are at the highest risk, men are ten times more likely to choose this option of taking their own lives.
As the four state these facts without remission for the first couple of minutes. Unnerving, upsetting, the audience ponders. Thankfully all is not doom and gloom. We learn of the characters lives, loves, hates, ambitions and get a glimpse into the world of those who treat a job of clearing up after such tragedies the way any normal person would look upon changing a nappy or picking up after your dog in the local park. Three hours average clean-up time.
‘Jumpers’, ‘Poppers’, those who leave a note, those who don’t, those who strip naked and other titbits not on the tongue of 9 to 5ers. Actor Robert Crawford is STE or Carl for the most of the performance, Richard Mcferren is John, Jonny Everett is Doug, captain of the crew with the most years and clean-ups to his name. All double and triple up as others; be they press officers, a six-year-old, bumbling therapists, a well-to-do psychiatrist who leaves his 2.0. and fab house in the suburbs, drives a lovely car to… where else? Passengers fucked off by delays; well, it’s only someone’s hubby, son, uncle, brother, cousin, lover.
Like grannies knitting at the feet of the guillotine we sat and engulfed this all. But, aside from the humour of in squad troubles, who’s getting promotion, there is a strong, bold message which should be known and shared by us all. Out of all four suicides, male, female, no difference at all: three can be prevented. Not getting all Dave aka ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’ on you.
What I did find strange was the running length. 85 minutes excluding a standing ovation is a tad long. Another gripe – yeah, ‘shallow’ you’re thinking considering the subject matter, but this is not a Northern Irish writer’s work. Imported from England ‘Network Rail’ is the employer of our four protagonists. First performed in 2017 just off the West End.
As mentioned earlier, I’m new to PintSized and its credentials are honourable, but surely a local writer could’ve came up with something equally as moving, evocative and important?
Still, touching, funny (when it probably shouldn’t be, but such is the human condition) and a play to definitely go see.
31 Hours plays next at The Strand Theatre, East Belfast tomorrow night and closes at Cliftonville Social Club. For Booking detail visit PintSized Productions’ Facebook page or search for the venues.