Stagemad Theatre Company, under the direction of James Power, gave a powerful revival to Noel Kelly’s play – Blues in the Night, at Garter Lane. This is a searing scalding blast of a play that hinges on a Waterford family coping with a father’s illness, the delusion of past fame, the hurt of lost opportunities and the endless guilt of what was and what might have been. A stay at home sister Eily, tries to make decisions for two emigrant siblings, Michael – the golden boy whose claim to fame was that he played for Waterford in 1968 in a European game against Manchester United. He went off to pursue a football career and business in England and his family basked in his fame. His story is one aspect of Blues in the Night.
His sister Kitty also emigrated to a world of bars and night spots and her Blues in the Night is the reverie world of Johnny Mercer’s song of the same name.
Their martinet of a father suffers a stroke and the emigrants, somewhat reluctantly come home to confront harsh truths that they ran away from and to admit ot failed careers at least in home eyes.
That bitterness of delusion and disappointment is the almost overpowering drams of the play in a heavy style that owes much to Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night, but Noel Kelly creates a tight corrosive drama that time has darkened. Characters refer to a vanished Waterford of Paper Mills, Denny’s, Clover Meats and the Flour Mills. The family thought that the Glass Factory was some nirvana. The collapse of this industry is a further hurt – a searing reminder of the psychic hurt Waterford peoples’ hope and dreams have suffered.
Paddy Dwan’s set design adds to the nostalgia and Konor Halpin as Michael gave a powerful, emotionally draining performance that will stay for a long time in my memory. Carol Doherty was impressive as the tipsy goodtime girl Kitty who had no good memories of home. Bríd Power as the put-upon sister Eily was a quiet contrast and her long suffering anguish touched many a memory in the audience. James Whelan brought much needed comedy and relief as the epileptic son Johnny – the family’s fooleen as a ball boy in Kilcohan. Eamon Kelly played the Da.
It might be said that Noel Kelly put too much content and too much rant into this play but it’s resonance to a vanished Waterford cannot be denied as we await the pain and anguish that will emerge when a Waterford writer takes on the impact of the Glass story and the fresh hurt of further displaced and disillusioned people.