Féile an Phobail, Belfast, and on tour
This will be an unusual review, lacking in the essential information a reader might feel entitled to expect: the name of the production, the names of the characters played by the actors and an outline of the story and themes of the play. We can however reveal the name of the producing company: Pintsized Productions of Belfast.
The show was the latest iteration of their Pintsize Surprise, where audience members turn up to see a play about which they know nothing in advance, and as the play is on tour, it would be unseemly to reveal the detail of what future audiences should expect. We would hate to spoil the surprise.
As a format, the Pintsize Surprise might seem like something of a risky strategy, both for the company and the audience. The danger is that the audience that comes to see the play is the wrong audience for the material, or that the play is the wrong material for the audience.
For the paying punter there is always a risk in parting company with a tenner at the door of a theatre, but here it’s magnified. In a sense you have to trust the producer and director and hope that they have chosen the material wisely, cast and rehearsed the actors well, and made a show that won’t leave you feeling cheated of your admission fee, and of a couple of hours of your life.
However, this production felt like money thoroughly well spent. In fact, it was more than worth the price of the ticket.
Conor Doran and Dan Kelly play two young friends engaged in a series of deceptions and posturings, determined to appear manly and in control of the violent world they inhabit. But, safe to say, things are not as they seem, and as the narrative unfolds, so too do the layers of the friendship. Slowly and inexorably, their certainties about each other, and ours about them begin to unravel.
Pintsize has made a glittering gem of a show that packs a punch way in excess of the scale of the production. This contained two-hander is a heavyweight show, and the raw emotional energy both players bring to their parts leaves the audience on the ropes, before delivering the knockout blows.
The performances are finely balanced, Conor Doran all manic energy and guilty intensity, Dan Kelly measured and understated in his ultramasculine confidence. Doran really inhabits his part with a commitment that is utterly engaging, and a tremulous sensitivity that is powerfully convincing.
Kelly gives a more internalised performance. His character is all strutting swagger and hard man brio, but underneath this is a creeping self-doubt that slowly undermines his projection of himself. Kelly keeps this carefully under control, allowing hints and suggestions of uncertainty to seep out, bringing the audience along with him.
Full credit must go to director Terry Keeley for managing to balance the two styles of performance and the different talents of the two actors. He does a masterful job of shaping the performances, modulating the playing to allow the audience to involve themselves in the inner lives of the two young men. The surprises, when they come, have not been telegraphed. Keeley, better known in this parish as one of Belfast’s finest actors under 30, clearly has a substantial talent as a director too.
And finally, credit too to Pintsize and company Artistic Director Gerard McCabe, for their continuing commitment to developing the best new talents in the country. Once again the results are exceptional and that is an aspect of this company’s work that comes as no surprise.
Art Mac Cláir