I do not in anyway want to even seem to be patronising but I was so impressed that a small venue like Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir, would go to the bother to mark Brian Friel’s 80th Birthday with a quality double bill of two Friel plays, based on the work of Anton Chekhov. Earlier this year I was at both the Abbey and Gate Theatre productions to mark this significant birthday and my visit to Brewery Lane was a wonderful and as positive as those national venues. Good theatre is not the preserve of professional or national venues and Carrick’s approach to the work was honest and inspirational.

It was a cold night but the welcome was heartfelt and warm. The opening play, Afterplay, looks at two peripheral characters from two Checkhov plays, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as Friel moves the action forward by twenty years as Sonya Serebriakova meets down-at-heel musician Andrey Prozorev in a run down cafe in Moscow. In out of the cold, they warm themselves with tea, vodka and soup and it is obvious that they are inventing a post life as casual strangers often do. Prozorov has a battered violin case and he blathers on about his sisters and his dead wife and miserable children. He boasts he is playing in an opera, La Boheme, while in fact he is busking while visiting a ne’erdowell son in prison.

Sonya suggests she is organising the setting up of a forestry programme on a farm her Uncle Vanya has neglected while masking a drink problem and a lot of almost concealed anger and despair. Failed dreams and loneliness are evident and it is Friel’s skill with words and Roseanne Glascott’s skills of direction that this play stands as a piece of thoughtful drama whether you know the backstory or not.

David Grant, I initially thought, was a little too young for Prozorev but his quality shone through. Maria Clancy as Sonya was magnificent and more impressive than the Gate actress.

After tea and chat in the welcoming tearoom, Tom Nealon impressed with his Checkhov’s The Bear. This play needs a balance between moody high tragedy and broad comedic strokes. Julieanne Denby looked and acted the part of tragic unloved bitter widow Eleana, in a beautiful black long dress. Fergus Power was the rude, crude Smirnov, who is a force of nature come to collect a debt for hay. While his costume was lacking, his acting was suitably Bear-like and his rude health and boastful manner cheered up the audience.

Once again, Jim English impressed as the panicking dithering servant Luka.

John Denby and Giancarlo Laisso provided a wonderful composite set with beige drapes and apt furniture.

Walter Dunphy did the announcements and his fire one was a gem, that in the event of a fire, the cast and audience should gather and warm themselves at it.