Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful | Review
The MAC, Belfast • As part of EdgeFest
By Joseph Nawaz • Photos: Matt Curry
For the first time in – ooh years? – I went to the theatre last week to review a play. The reason for breaking my fast being that my colleague and fellow Stalemate John Patrick Higgins had a dog in the race/ a horse in the paddock/a play in The MAC; Specifically as a writer of one of a trio of shows loosely bundled together under the collective moniker ‘EdgeFest’.
On the face of it, EdgeFest isn’t a GREAT name for a series of three plays written by middle-aged middle-class white men about other white men, is it? But who cares about looks, when everyone knows it’s personality that counts.
And the “edge” that these plays pertain to is the rusty razor’s edge of mental health. Men’s mental health in particular. In a place where over 70 percent of deaths by suicide are male, it may actually be described as timely. The full complement of EdgeFest is two plays from the Prime Cut stable (the second of these being East Belfast Boy by Fintan Brady) and one play from Tinderbox – PJ O’Reilly’s acclaimed personal opus The Man Who Fell To Pieces.
John’s play – Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful – has been rescued (resurrected even) from a state of inauspicious anonymity, following its original stint at Edinburgh a couple of years ago. I don’t have exact details, but dark rumours of “death by autocue” abounded. That didn’t stop the show getting a handful of decent write-ups in a few of the local inkies, with more than enough about it to warrant a reappraisal.
In this pimped up reincarnation, Director Rhiann Jeffry has wrought something lusciously theatrical out of a piece that would work equally well as a cropped “talking head” monologue on the tellybox.
Proceedings begin, like so many of the best things – with Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ loudly blaring like a 90s pop wind-tunnel straight into our faces. With a ruddy glow to our cheeks, we’re then introduced to the forlorn figure of Malachy, a man of “a certain age”, engaging in a “last supper” of sorts.
As Malachy tells his story, in various states of undress, he presents himself as an affable, unassuming everyman, with a need to unload before… well, before whatever comes next. There’s an uneasy sense that he’s on the verge of a transformative act, and we the audience are confessor to his emotional ablutions before he can make that leap. I for one felt a queasy sort of culpability in the early stages of the play, although that might have been the Tiger Prawn Balti I had for dinner.
The set reinforces that feeling, as it oozes an almost organic sense of moulder, betraying a life unkempt and off the rails, a life without living if you like. Water drips from pipes into the set’s focal point – a large, troubling trough-shaped chasm centre stage. Is it a bath, a metaphorical hole, or a clever device to couch (or bathe) this deftly verbose monologue with a little theatricality? Or all three? Well, it’s a bath principally. The rest is up to you, chief.
Malachy – portrayed beautifully, lugubriously and even playfully by Charlie Bonner, is a “nice guy”. He’s the one at parties who offers a sympathetic ear, he’s the unassuming bloke at work who offers to get you a coffee when he pops out to the shops. A self-professed beta male. A contentedly unambitious forager in the middle ground between success and failure.
But something’s amiss, and the view from the middle is distinctly uncomfortable here. Suburbia has yellowed around the edges. Malachy is of that generation of young men and women (possibly the last) to avail themselves of a free education, which rather being a springboard to greatness, has ended up being a visa to a life anonymous, and a sort of semi-comfort that affords you the luxury of just enough free time reflect on everything you haven’t become.
There are some moments of bleak beauty throughout the hour – more than you’d expect from a play about a pot-bellied bloke ruminating in his underwear. One such moment is a segue between acts, where the pipes above the “bath” explode, baptising a semi-clad Mal with rusted precipitation. It’s the play’s visual “money shot” and my ludicrously obvious attempts to surreptitiously photograph it are quite rightly intercepted by a member of staff.
Peppered with astute asides, and more than a few sparkly one-liners, the better to propel the “action” such as it is, this is a play that requires maximum attention to get maximum reward. Malachy reveals, at his own bittersweet, leisurely pace, just why he is talking to us, toying with our expectations as to what will come next. I’m not going to spoil any of that here. The journey really is the thing.
It’s by no means perfect. The music is something of a problem throughout. Occasionally – excuse the half pun – it drowns any theatrical tension that’s been earned in a torrent of saccharine semi-ironic power balladry. Malachy may say that pop songs express it so much better than he does, but it belabours the point somewhat when we’re subjected to Nick Berry’s Every Loser Wins turned up to 11 while Charlie Bonner’s desperately trying to shout above it.
But the griping is minor, the rewards are plenty and the pay-off is something of a gorgeous relief: three very good reasons to go see this play
To sort-of paraphrase Malachy, we definitely haven’t been sold a theatrical pup. Everyday I Wake up Hopeful is a funny, sad, touching paean to the profundity of supposedly small lives and small thoughts. And Malachy’s “last supper” leaves us as the audience with plenty of food for thought. It runs until 03 March at the MAC, Belfast.
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