Closing Time



Again I have the privilege to review another really terrific Irish play. This one is from Belfast-based (and born) Owen McCafferty and is about a hell-hole of life’s losers all locked into a lock-in somewhere in Belfast.

It actually doesn’t matter that it is Belfast, these mental and alcoholic derelicts are universal symbols of the decay and sadness at the heart of a society which is based on financial success.

Make no mistake, however, the landlord of the hotel bar where all this takes place, would love to be a major player and turn over six figures, but in reality he is stuck in a rut, to run the worst, dingy bar in his part of the city.

He dreams of schemes of riches and deceives his wife with his day and night dream-boat promises. This has a debilitating effect on his wife of years-and-tears who sees him, resentfully, as the author of her own misfortune.

Here is the charmer and the charmed; I suppose they both entered into the pub business as equal partners and it may be unfair to blame one rather than another but as they say, all is fair in love and war, and this is war and war and yes, a teeny bit of love squeezed out of the rotten carpet of their existence.

It is a play about how love can survive having been put through the mangle of competitive comparisons and acres and acres of drink.

The acting is superb, I was mesmerised by each actor’s different contribution. As the wheedling Belfast lay-about, Iggy, Patrick O’Kane was superb. However Pam Ferris stole the show as the over-weight, despairing landlady moving from comedy, to assertiveness and eventually to pathetic drunkenness and lechery as she joined the men at the bar.

The play opens at nine in the morning on just another rotten day in this rotten part of Belfast and the no-hopers are assembled in the bar simply because they are still asleep from last night’s closing time; closing time becomes opening time in this time-transient despair.

At last they are awakened from their hangovers in their head-in-an-ashtray depictions of Still Life Beside an Empty Glass, and so begins again the pageant of their lives; a pint of lager here, a wee vodka here and now, then later breakfast (if it doesn’t make you boke your ring up) and maybe a walk down the road to get the paper.

This is a play about sitting in a bar until you grow old and in this play there are a lifetime’s conversations.

I don’t want to spoil the plot - even in this play of mood and personalities - there is one; enough to say perhaps, CLOSING TIME is a mesmerising masterpiece, not to be missed.

Lyttleton Loft, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1.(Box Office 020 7452 3000) until Sat 21st Sept 02, then on tour Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton 25-28 Sept, Warwick Arts Centre Studio 1-5 Oct, Tivoli Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival 8-12 Oct.