Emmet Kirwan’s Dublin Oldschool, the smash hit, which was adapted into a film this summer, has returned to the stage at the Project Arts Centre for an 11-day run. Directed by Philip McMahon and starring Kirwan and Ian Lloyd Anderson (of Love/Hate), this hour-long spoken word journey is the story of a young DJ’s drug-fuelled bank holiday weekend in Dublin, which leads to a chance encounter with the heroin-addicted brother from his past and what can only be described as a rhythmic long-hard-look-in-the-mirror.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the gripes. A few times in this play, moments of possible character development go awry through seemingly misplaced or tonally dissonant instances of metaphysical philosophy and thematic pussyfooting, with the odd dodgy pseudo-poetry thrown in for good measure – “1: A disease! 2: No, a dis-ease” being a glaring example, reminiscent of a Beckett duologue that didn’t make the final cut. One of these seldom moments comes at the beginning of the play, and another towards the end. Speaking of the end, the play concludes via a plot device which is clever but does not, in this reviewer’s opinion, truly land with any tangible significance beyond its cleverness.
Here end the gripes. The performances of Kirwan and Anderson are a feat to behold. Retaining a gripping and dominating energy throughout, the pair reach ecstatic and skilful explosions of caricature before sweeping into admirable touches of nuance. Said emotionally nuanced moments of dialogue are impressive considering the whopping pace of this play. With four days and myriad characters traversed, the plot appropriately feels like it’s on speed, with the rapid anecdotes entirely hurtling over (blacking out between?) nearly all inconsequential breaths. And yet even the supporting characters, who are all masterfully handled by Anderson, burst with personality in their brief interjections, reminding us of people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting on nights out when we should have gone home yesterday.
The exuberance of these large personalities highlights what is perhaps the best part of this play, and the reason why it will surely entertain most audience members for runs to come – that is, the tonal migrations that occur so frequently yet so seamlessly throughout. Huge laughs are balanced with truly touching moments of aggression and tenderness between the brothers. What is key is the balance. The drama is never (well, maybe once) sullied with a misplaced joke, and the comedy does not lose its heart by being juxtaposed with poorly tessellating melodrama. This play has its chances to spoon/force-feed its messages of forgiveness, self-evaluation, and crucially spectrally characterised definitions of addiction and self, down the throats of its audience. But it never does, and instead opts to present us with people. Many people in two people. It is with real people that we both laugh and cry, and this production understands that. Beyond anything else, this aspect of Dublin Oldschool’s writing, directing, and performance are its true triumph.