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You are here : Home > Touring > These Halcyon Days > The Times, August 14th 2013

THE TIMES

These Halcyon Days at Assembly Hall

Libby Purves


14 August 2013

★★★★★

We’re in a nursing home, the kind you don’t necessarily go home from, there “you see the dread in every visiting face”. Patricia is a grumbly, sharp-tongued former head teacher, hating her physical decline and looking back at her spinster life with regret. Escaping the dayroom’s pop radio and “yoga for the infirm”, she finds in the conservatory the drifting, benign Seán Ceabhruill, once a famous actor now edging willingly into forgetfulness, especially of his younger partner’s defection. At first it is old-fashioned politeness which makes him tolerate Patricia, but as she chivvies him out of his wheelchair and raises memories of music, they find a sort of friendship.

If you are an emotional theatregoer with a conscience, there are moments when, dashing a tear from your eye, you must ask yourself sternly :“Is this sentimental? Am I being manipulated?”. This happened three or four times in Deirdre Kinahan’s beautifully judged new play from Dublin, but a considered answer is: “No, this is real enough.” Even though, heaven help us, there is always something push-button poignant about tremulous old actors suddenly finding a stronger voice and declaiming the St Crispin’s Day speech. Sniff.

The performances, though, are matchless: Stephen Brennan as old Sean moves between courtly vagueness and revelations of sharp passionate suffering, so we understand why he says: “I’m all finished. It’s easier that way”. Anita Reeves gives Patricia a restless anger, which in that final friendship is granted the grace to reveal itself as fear and be consoled. And whenever the emotion gets unbearable, there’s a grand Irish laugh. As when Pat, discovering the fame of her new friend, shrills: “They should put you in the bro-chooore! You’d draw in more custom than the incontinence chairs!”

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