Gallowglass Theatre Company, despite being axed by the Robespierre of the Arts Council, David Purcell, have combined with Civic Theatre, Tallaght and Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork, to mount a comprehensive national tour of a new adaptation of J. P. Millar’s Days Of Wine And Roses. I saw it opening night at the Everyman Palace and this two-handed seared its way into my consciousness with a devastating look at alcoholism in the heyday of the sixties. There were times during the 100 minute show, without interval, that I flinched and looked away from the awfulness of the situation and I was deeply saddened by the impact the play had on me.
Belfast author, Owen McCafferty, wrote this new stage version based on a 1958 teleplay that became a movie hit with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Am not sure why he transposed it into sixties Belfast and London, but the story is very harrowing, despite a grafted on fantasy about the racehorse Arkle, that perhaps was meant to detract some attention from the awful descent into despair and addiction.
Conall Morrison directs at a breakneck pace and the two actors step out of role repeated to change the various settings at speed to keep up the fretful tension as in a series of quick scenes in front of back-projections we see idealistic Donal, a bookies clerk,, heading off to London and he meets bouncy enthusiastic Mona has a sip of spirits from a hipflask and misses the face off him. These early happy enthusiastic scenes are so joyful, so full of young love, that the late rapid decline into abusive drunkenness is so visceral and so terrifying.
As this play is coming to Garter Lane in November, I don’t want to give the story away and there are a few surprises despite the awfulness. Martin Brody, as Donal, catches the confused bonhomie of the good time guy in love with life, friends, a night out – many nights out and he manages to earn the sympathy and anger of the audience in almost equal measure.
Judith Roddy, who was in the Theatre Royal production of Jim Nolan’s The Sky Road, was so impressive as Mona and you wanted to jump up and down with her in energetic happy moments, then hate her, then rescue her.
A sixties soundtrack covers the quick scene changes. Make sure you see it when it comes to Garter Lane and experience a tale as horrible as drunkenness and performances too real for comfort.