Walking in to the Boys School at Smock Alley feels just like walking into The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill. Run by chalk and cheese brothers Mick and Joe O’Reilly they spend their days obsessing over missing money and missing socks. They are trying to withstand the tide of supermarkets and online shopping without much success. The staging has been excellently and carefully designed to look like all corner shops; nostalgia and curiosity jumbled together. A second glance at the very unusual selection of items on offer gives the audience a clue as to why this is misery hill; eggs for 8 euro next to 100 euro for a used, plain white T – shirt that was once worn by an under 21 footballer. Unsurprisingly the shoppers are not flocking to their store. The brothers are joined by friends Deana and Johno as they stagger through their day finding humour where they cannot find money. In their current situation, how long before they have to give in to their arch enemy: Dunnes (try and imagine the name Dunnes uttered in an over the top panto voice to signal doom and the enemy). How is a corner shop to survive in the modern world?
Joe (Barry John Kinsella) likes to start the day with his tunes. It sets him off on the right note as he dances around the shop with a broom. It’s a fun start to the day. George Benison’s Give Me The Night is bouncy and infectious. It sets the pace and at first the play kept up; with comedy wrapped around sharp social observations. The was developed upon by the introduction of Deana (Eimear Keating). A firecracker of a character full of energy and bite, it is difficult to see why she stays friends with them but her presence on stage is full of entertainment. Then, in walks Johno (Colm Lennon). A down and out he is a friend of sorts. The kind that you are stuck with from childhood and never manage to separate yourself from. He is prone to exaggeration and flights of fancy that are used to (ever diminishing) comedic effect.
Most of the play felt a bit grimy. Johno started off being funny, but his speeches continued to the point of almost pain. At the end there is a sudden emotional revelation. I say sudden because it came from absolutely nowhere, no lead up at all. There were moments earlier in the play that were supposed to act as breadcrumbs, but they were not fully formed enough to pave the way for the ending. The audience were left looking around wondering what had happened. There is much else throughout the play that goes unanswered. Story lines and plot points are started and then forgotten about. There is one plotline that dovetails through the production well. That of the mad old bat of a customer Mary (Denise O’Connor). Her transformation at the end fits and her explanation for the absurdity going on makes sense in the context of misery hill. If the final scene with Johno, can be worked back to flow so well from beginning to end then the script will soon come up to the great standard of acting on display. Keating had a particularly great roll to get into. Comedy, brutality, the voice of reason and justice all rolled into one, she without doubt had some of the most entertaining and enjoyable scenes. Lennon plays the part of homeless raconteur well and brings out the best in the others, including Kinsella’s Joe. And of course, none of this would work without the ‘straight’ man of the group, Owen O’Gorman’s long suffering older brother Mick, who acts as an excellent foil for the others and provides the anchor around which the production revolves.
There is a strain of Irish comedy that is very black, and this is an example of a production that veers too much away from comedy and into the black. The last few scenes in The Last Corner Shop have a brilliant twist and are surreal and wonderfully done. The Last Corner Shop is rough, rude and a little too long. It has the bones of a great play here, with key plot points, characters and vignettes. The middle needs to be worked on and the main through points sharpened so the audience can get involved with the action unfolding around them. Hopefully Last Corner Shop will be revisited in the future and buffed up into a diamond.
Director: Mack Mirahmadi
Writer: Ciaran Gallagher & Mack Mirahmadi
Cast: Barry John Kinsella, Colm Lennon, Denise O’Connor, Eimear Keating, Owen O’Gorman
N.B. Interesting fact: there used to be a misery hill in Dublin 1.
N.B. Happy fact: I went home singing Benison’s Give Me The Night but was going mad when I couldn’t remember the name of the song or find it on youtube. Polliwog Theatre Company kindly responded to my facebook message and told me the name of the song.
From July 2019.