JOYCE MCMILLAN on WHAT THE ANIMALS SAY at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 21.5.09
4 stars ****
THE HEART SINKS, briefly, when it becomes clear that one of the two characters in this first play by actor David Ireland is – well – an actor, whining nervily over his failure to land those big parts. But if too many young theatre artists tend to waste time brooding on the small world of thespian ambition and frustration, Ireland’s play What The Animals Say – this week’s show in the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season – soon kicks all reservations clear into touch, with the fierce energy of its dialogue between two boys from Belfast now resident in Glasgow, one a struggling actor, the other a star footballer who has just signed for Celtic, despite his Protestant origins.
When we first encounter Jimmy and Eddie, they’ve just met in the Stranraer departure lounge of the Northern Ireland ferry. They recognise each other as old schoolmates, and start to banter at warp speed about the contrasting lives they now lead, and related topics of sectarianism, identity, race, sexuality and culture; never can the popular assumption that “theatre is gay” have been booted around a stage with such exhilarating frankness. And in the second half, set in Eddie’s Parkhead dressing-room a few weeks later, things take a slightly surreal turn, reflecting all kinds of ghastly truths about the modern cult of celebrity, and about the latent violence of the vigorous macho culture that shaped these two characters. By the time Lorne Campbell’s production storms to an end, after a breathless 40 minutes or so, the audience are ready to cheer David Walshe and Robbie Jack to the echo, for an outstandingly witty and energised pair of performances; and as for the writer – well, with Ireland already commissioned to write further plays for Belfast companies Ransom and Tinderbox, it looks as though a star is born.