My Real Life | Assembly Hall (Venue 35) | Star rating: ****
As a taxi driver, Noel has seen it all: “At the beginning of the night, you see the appearance; at the end of the night, you see the truth.” Now, the protagonist of Eoin Colfer’s one-man play has reached the end of the night, literally and metaphorically. As MS gradually lays hold of his body, he records two sides of a C-90 cassette for his best friend Richard; instructions for his funeral and reflections on his life.
In this production directed by Ben Barnes, former director of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Irish actor Don Wycherley gives a wonderfully understated performance as a Wexford man unaccustomed to plumbing the depths of his soul. He faces his situation with a dry wit, and a thinly disguised despair.
Memories are interwoven throughout: the English teacher the boys loved to terrorise, the music they listened to (1980s pop pervades the play – the audience filed in to Blondie and Kool and the Gang), Noel’s first kiss with a Dublin holidaymaker who “kissed like she was chewing on a turnip”. And there was Rose, the girl he loved, and the throwaway remark he made which drove them apart.
Colfer has written a play about regrets, which is brave in the way it doesn’t attempt to draw out a heart-warming or life-affirming message from the wreckage. Little concerned with ambition, Noel kept on living in Wexford with his mother waiting for his “real life” to begin. Then, before it was well begun, he found himself planning his exit.
In a world where one-person shows are increasingly the work of writer-performers with an autobiographical element, there’s a danger that a well-written, well-acted play starts to feel anachronistic. It is worth remembering that plenty of riches have come this way in Fringes past, and will again.
• Until 27 August.