FLIGHTS is a poignant play from the pen of John O’Donovan, embracing the corrosive influence of long-standing grief on three men in their 30s. Individuals who are all facing personal challenges in an Ireland still recovering from its economic plight of the late 2000s and the abrupt ending of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy.
A 2019 meeting that will pull them apart as much as bind them.
Set in an abandoned hut just outside Ennis in County Clare where the overhead light flickers away incessantly and strewn beer cans litter the floor, the three friends come together to remember the death seventeen years earlier of mate Liam – killed in a road accident. Others were meant to show up, but were detained elsewhere.
Despite the relentless drinking, playing of darts and witty banter, there’s an underlying sadness to the proceedings. All three have troubles that mean an overwhelming moroseness underpins their monumental drinking (boy, can they drink) and occasional drug taking. In the shadows lurks the memory of Liam who died just 17 years old, immersed in a sea of drugs.
There’s airport worker Barry (Colin Campbell) who is about to leave the country with Roisin, his partner of eleven years, destined for the honey and milk of London and streets pathed with gold.
Cusack (Conor Madden) is a giant bear of a man who has just become a new father. He’s been with Aoife for 17 years. Although thrilled to be a Dad, home life is tough. Negative equity rules the roost. Yet it’s obvious he has a warm heart – the warmest of all three.
Completing the trio is Pa (Rhys Dunlop) who to begin with lies comatose on the floor. He has just been made homeless and has no job. Drugs are his release valve and it’s not long before he’s got the other two scoring. He veers between caustic wit and semi-depression.
As the rain pours down incessantly outside, the drink flows down their throats as rapidly as water down a mountain, and the empty cans pile up, there are unsettling revelations that disturb the status quo. Individuals storm off, but come back bedraggled to drink some more and do a few more drugs and throw a few arrows in the general direction of the dartboard.
Yet the spirit of Liam is never far away. As the night goes on, we learn more about the events leading up to Liam’s death – done (very cleverly) through the three characters telling parts of his story (as Liam) on stage alone. It’s when the play is at its immersive best. Beautiful raw words, passionately delivered by Campbell, Madden and at the play’s end Dunlop.
It’s a long play at two hours and 20 minutes, but it never drags. It’s an Irish brew of lyricism, raw emotion, brotherhood, unfulfilment and lost opportunity – and of course drinking that few rugby teams could match. It’s superbly performed, well-staged and directed with aplomb by Thomas Martin. The set (Naomi Faughnan) is wonderfully chaotic while the music and sounds of raw nature (Peter Power) provide a constant backdrop (I put up an umbrella outside, so convinced I was that it was raining Irish cats and dogs).
Part warming, part annoying (because of the sense of wasted life), Flights is a powerful play. A play of our time (bankers should be required to watch it and then repent for their sins in helping bring about the death of the Celtic Tiger).
Quality writing from a gifted playwright. Like Guinness, Flights is a rewarding experience. Consume and quench your theatrical thirst.
Title photo by Ste Murray