20-24 April 2015
Walking home after seeing ‘Man In The Moon’ I intermittently felt the urge to burst out laughing or alternately, break down in tears. Writer Pearse Elliott has succeeded in creating a character who can tear out your heart and within a single beat can slap it back in again. Ciaran Nolan’s “parful” performance brings him to life, swirling us up in a tempest of manic, sharp and perfectly timed comedy juxtaposed with raw, harrowing expanses of sadness and grief. Under the direction of Tony Devlin this one man show feels at times like an ensemble, using the character Sean Doran to tell not just his own story or that of the people he uses to chronicle his life, but also the stories of those who have shared his turmoil and his joys offstage in the everyday.
Sean Doran is a well weathered young man who was brought up by and has now returned to, a mother who seems to think all ills can be put right with a “wee tamazy”. He has shared his childhood with his “pure housing estate style” older brother Joe and his younger brother Liam, both of whom, without so much as a single appearance, break our hearts in a twist we see coming from the start but are sheltered from until their last moment. Elliott’s text winds its way around a series of sub plots that all have their own significance and impact on Sean’s lively narrative. We meet the cast of the aforementioned ensemble during this meandering narrative. Initially we meet a wannabe stunt man named Gabe, who after requesting and consequently receiving a beating with an ever so slightly lucrative ulterior motive, from Sean and elder brother Joe, eventually turns philosopher with the epiphany that “the mind is stronger than the body”. Sadly this is a prophecy of the self-fulfilling variety, as we soon learn that he is the first of several sorrowful characters whom Sean reveals to us have taken their own lives.
Lights come down and with a long swig of cider in memoriam of “Evel Knievel” Gabe, we have our first poignant pause for thought, which sets the tone for the rest of the performance. These moments are exquisitely timed, lengthy enough to allow us to gain some clarity by reflecting on the story so far, yet so full of a powerful and at times tangible sadness that it is easy to start to become lost in them. These hypnotizing scenes are used to punctuate our way through the ecstatic physical delivery from Nolan that is the light that pulls us out of the dark throughout. His rolodex of transformations from sexual Lion man predator to twitchy, wild eyed portrayal of Bomb Scare Bobby leave us worn out but itching to hear more, itching to hear more because we know that as soon as the lights change and the non-stop, bullet paced monologue stops, the energy is temporarily solidified into a cloudy melancholy, while we wait to hear about the next poor soul to become one of the ‘men in the moon’.
I could not write a true reflection of this performance without at least attempting to give an impression of the minimal yet mesmerizing set that is almost liquefied using dynamic, bold lighting and a playlist designed by Justin Yang that makes us want to get up and party like we’re at a house party with Sean and the ‘Hoods’, at the same time as making us choke back tears before we are even half way through the show. The latest in a long line of Ciaran Bagnall’s breath taking set designs, the bare basics of this incarnation are a park bench shimmering under a hazy cross-light which gives the illusion of dusk passing across a landscape covering half of the stage space. The backdrop is a beautifully illuminated half moon silhouette that is used to demark different times and spaces by a seamless set of colour and pattern changes, which transform the entire stage effortlessly. The product of all of this is an epic journey from a glitzy, bass pumping, Universal Studio’s movie premier after party, to an almost erotic, drunken rendition of an Elvis Presley classic, at an otherwise fairly sombre wake in a Northern Irish housing estate front room. Ciaran Nolan is certainly the star of this show, but his performance is elevated to another level when paired with this captivating production.
I could suggest that with the combination of this narrative of emotional peaks and troughs, the magical production and the superbly written array of characters all at his back, Ciaran Nolan could have glided through this play without much effort and it would still have been a fairly memorable event. Fortunately though, this suggestion would be utterly mistaken. To as simply as I believe his character might do, Ciaran Nolan is Sean Doran. The Sean Doran I saw on stage was the product of Ciaran Nolan’s strenuous kneading and moulding of the material gifted to him in the form of Elliott’s hilarious, yet traumatising script. I was totally spellbound by Nolan’s ability to lift the audience into roaring fits of laughter and cheering, and to then drop them right back down into the abyss of silence, with his harrowing stare and almost chilling descriptions of the darker events that have scarred the Sean that we see before us. His delivery was everything, he gave us moments of stand up, covering the agitprop, satirical content with the same momentum and power that he used to traverse the stage, strutting like a half-cut smick or ferociously pouncing onto the bench as a Lion man trying to impress his “she”.
I believe that this play not only deserves to be seen and applauded, it actually needs to be, in light of the current mental state of so many members of Northern Irish society, to continue to raise awareness for those who are in those dark places and feel alone. At a time when arts funding is being decimated by our government, work like this demonstrates the cathartic, supportive and enriching experiences that can and should be had by our enduring community. The performance I attended received a five-minute standing ovation, every moment of which was earned not only by Ciaran Nolan but by everybody at Brassneck Theatre Company. Two days later and one line that I feel summarises the entire play is still engrained in my mind “the problem with the ‘remember whens’ is that they are never as good as the “here and nows’’, this line also summarises my overall opinion as to why you should go and see this play.