Judging by Philip St. John’s new supernatural play, it must be Christmas. A cheery man arrives at a bare office and decorates it with tinsel and light-up figurines. But Larry (Nick Devlin) is preparing for more than just the holidays.
To our surprise, a shivering woman soon lands from another dimension. The last thing Hope (Jody O’Neill) remembers is being pushed off a pier by her husband. Now she has a chance for payback.
This revenge drama co-produced by Speckintime and High Seas Productions, in association with Mermaid Arts Centre and The New Theatre, is unexpected fare for this time of the year. Larry wastes no time delving into the play’s complex mythology, describing a demon world plagued by queues. It actually sounds like Christmas shopping in Dublin.
That seems deliberate, in a play with underworld workings that are wryly familiar. Larry is a ‘mentor’, once dead and now living again the world, but only on agonising short-term contracts. It can be renewed if he directs a new arrival towards avenging their death. In short, he needs Hope to kill her husband.
Hope digests all of this a little too well. Imaginably freaked, she runs for the door but stops at the threshold – for no reason other than the play needs her to. If you’re beginning to suspect this isn’t a well-written character, you’ll cringe as she becomes a cold-hearted boardroom warrior who wastes no time changing into a suit, asking for a stiff drink, and, despite her sudden resurrection, putting the finishing touches to an all-important business deal. ‘I am a determined single-minded person,’ says O’Neill, whose performance glimpses many more possibilities.
This could have been played as a buddy comedy, with Devlin’s Larry, benignly optimistic and guileless, ribbing an uptight and nervous Hope. But director Matthew Ralli’s production doesn’t lean into those references; instead, the comedy is delivered as horror, even though the bloodshed happens between scenes. The biggest scream is when someone says they’ll have to wait 45 minutes for a taxi.
St. John’s play moves from retribution to opportunity, as Hope puts her eyes on extending her time on Earth to grow her renewable energy business. Her new demon boss Luca (Shane O’Regan) arrives with good snarl. ‘Mind if I share some personal history’? No exposition has been disguised so far, so why not.
The negotiation that takes place in the final minutes is rich with allusion that a demonic world’s corporate structure isn’t unlike our own. There are forced redundancies, all-powerful bigwigs and opportunists desperate to ascend the ladder. It all leads to a yuletide argument of morals: which will win, greed or selflessness? In business, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
The Restoration of Hope is on until 16December 2017 at the New Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.