JOYCE MCMILLAN on MAN IN THE MOON at Football Colours Allowed, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 7.3.15.
4 stars ****
IT’S BEEN A BUSY week at the Tron, as the theatre whirls through its week of events dealing with sectarianism in Scotland, with storytelling from the local community on Tuesday, new work from the acclaimed young Tron Commonwealth Company this weekend, and on Wednesday, a sizzling evening of works-in-progress by playwright Alan Bissett, writer and performer Isobel McArthur, and Belfast poet and composer Matt Regan, a kind of Kate Tempest with a nine-piece string ensemble.
The theatrical centrepiece of the week, though, is this raw but powerful play by writer Pearse Elliott, and Belfast-based company Brassneck, which explores one of the least-understood consequence of Northern Ireland’s thirty years of low-level civil war, followed by 17 years of uneasy peace. The hero of Man In The Moon is Sean, a West Belfast lad who somehow finds himself, at 40 or so, sitting on a bench at the city’s Half Moon Lake, mourning too many men from his childhood group of friends – including his own brothers, Joe and Liam – who have taken their own lives.
In a programme note, Pearse Elliott makes it clear that the play is partly autobiographical, based on what he terms an “epidemic” of suicide among the Belfast men with whom he went to school. And throughout his two-hour play, divided into ten or twelve episodes like so many gradually darkening shaggy-dog tales told in a pub, the reasons behind this slow-burning disaster remain both obvious and mysterious, a litany of ordinary 21st century male working-class misery – lost jobs, lost wives, lost relationships with children – edged with something harder that seems rooted deep in recent history, a total loss of male status, meaning and purpose that ends in death.
There’s something painfully raw, almost embarrassing, about the emotional openness of Ciaran Nolan’s performance as Sean; a fierce hyper-maleness, a desperate physical and verbal over-expressiveness, a need to impress and amuse, that is all too recognisable to anyone who knows Belfast, or Glasgow. Yet as the story deepens and darkens, Sean’s fierce hyperactivity, loud bursts of raucous song, and ferocioualy sexist tales of the women in his life, gradually give way to a heartbroken quietness and stillness; in a play that lingers on slightly too long, through several possible endings, but finally has the courage – almost in the style of an advice leaflet – to exhort its audience to live, to change their lives, and not to take that final step into the dark.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow; final Football Colours Allowed performances tonight.