In a decrepit South London garage, two estranged brothers meet to pick over the detritus of their father’s final years, and in doing so unearth a torrent of supressed memories and long-concealed resentments. The figure of their father, a leather-tough Irishman who sought a new life in London, and seemed to conquer it through his absorption of the Knowledge and his success as a cab driver, hangs heavily over the lives of his sons. The younger brother Con (Ian Groombridge) has followed shakily in his father’s footsteps, and come to idolise him, the elder, Ray (Howard Teale), turned the years of abuse he suffered at his father’s hands into the material for a successful career as stand-up comedian and author.
In Darren Murphy’s smartly written if overloaded new play, these two legacies collide with one another in two hours of revelations and remembrances. Murphy clearly has a great surplus of issues to explore in his new play, and though many of them are rather well trodden, others such as the ownership of a story, a memory or a legend are sufficiently original and engaging to bring a new voice and new life to the piece. The first act contains a fantastic, coruscating battle of will between the two brothers, and the relationship between Con and his wife Peggy, played with great sensitivity by Carolyn Tomkinson in the production’s finest performance, is moving and real.
Unfortunately, rather than allowing the shocking disclosures and confrontations to build to satisfying dramatic peaks, Murphy too often simply grinds the same issues finer and finer, until the play becomes a tiring war of attrition. Complaints and grudges are revisited again and again, and the second act resembles the first so strongly that the audience is left with an uncomfortable hour of déjà vu. Most frustrating of all is the character of Anthony (Oliver Gilbert), whose presence simply adds further distraction from the meat of the drama.
Credit must be attributed to director Caitriona McLaughlin, however, who keeps the action fizzing and the tension high without resorting to excessive physical confrontation. One or two moments of out of place farce excepted, her work, together with that of designer Francesca Rodrigues, provides the piece with some much needed focus. There can be similarly little fault found with the performances of Groombridge and Teale, who are never less than engaging. Teale in particular is slimy without being charmless, and embodies the ‘glow’ of success which the other characters observe with great credibility and ease. If Murphy would be willing to shave half an hour from Irish Blood, English Heart, the story of these promising characters could be allowed to shine all the brighter.