An almost capacity audience rose in celebration and acclamation for Jim Nolan and his latest play, ‘Brighton’, at Garter Lane Arts Centre on Satuday last,May Day. Amid tears, cheers and a glorious feelgood rush of emotion this was a standing ovation for success and resilience and the ordinary extraordinary miracle of the human spirit.
In Director Ben Barnes’ skilful hands this was a thoughtful but funny salute to survival as a sometimes small but significant statement, where regrets are put aside and even hopeless cases have their hour to fret upon the stage. It was also a triumph for the transformative power of theatre, the extraordinary process of making the ordinary memorable and possible.
‘Brighton’ showed us people heading for the end of the pier, a step from the road from which no traveller returns, a place where there is no future to share and the tide brings in not the loss of hope but the cost of hope. In this play Jim Nolan explores that cost of hope, the need to willingly pay the price for another day, another breath, to stay above the ground, even if it is on a perilous pier of memories. Nil desperandum.
Set in a London nursing home, a modern clinical place as outlined by Joe Vanek’s wonderful set design, we meet the never say die widow, Lily Thompson, who nurses a secret of terminal cancer but is determined to continue the miracle of life as a journey into adventure and write her life story, start a choir, help people with their problems and begin to gamble on horses and explore the arcane magic of Yankees and the variation of odds, bookies use to attract customers.
There is the new arrival the celebrated actor Jack Dunhill, paralysed from the waist down and lamenting a modest career and a lifetime of regrets. For Lily, he is another lame duck to comfort and to nurse back to hope and purpose.
Then, there is the almost too cheery care assistant Dave, a gay in love, an Arsenal supporter who chides Lily for being a Fulham supporter. To help Dave sort out his love life becomes another of Lily’s little missions in life. It’s that sense of in-life that lifts this play and its audience out of the ordinary with its affirmative brilliance of the preciousness of life, of survival above the ground.
Gillian Hanna, is amazingly wonderful as Lily, and you could feel the audience wanting her, willing her to live. It was a privilege to see, to feel the way she shared hope with people. On May Day it was a rare triumph to experience the ability of a founder member of the legendary Monstrous Regiment. Mark Lambert was excellent as Jack and he brought the audience on a motorised wheelchair journey they won’t easily forget.
Waterford actor Andrew Macklin as Dave was an exuberant life force which lit up the stage. This was splendid acting on the home stage.
Mark Graham’s sound and projection designs brought a tender and cinematic quality to the play and in the wonderful affirmative closing moments on Brighton Pier filled me with admiration and emotion.
This play is a triumph for Jim Nolan as he continues the 25 year journey in playwriting, going from strength to strength. It is also a triumph for his native place, Waterford. In Brighton, he gave us not just the shared emotion of three characters on stage but such is the quality of his writing that he gave theatrical reality to many unseen characters like alcoholic priests, gentle lovers, flash bookies, other inmates, a symphony concert, a football final and a glorious choir. Venite Adoramus.