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No Smoke without Fire – Viking Theatre – Review

No Smoke Without Fire

No Smoke without Fire – Review by Cormac Fitzgerald

Running: October 5th -26th

Starring: Mary Murray

The smoking ban was put in place in Ireland in 2004. Smokers who once puffed away in the comfort and warmth of the pub found themselves cast out into the cold hostility of the smoking area. A new mode of social interaction was created when friends and strangers, who may have nothing in common except the cigarettes in their hands, sparked up conversations to pass the time between each puff.

This is the setting and springboard for No Smoke without Fire, a one-woman show currently running in the intimate setting of the Viking Theatre. Mary Murray (of Love/Hate fame) inhabits a number of female characters as they chat, gossip, moan and plot in the smoking area of a non-descript rough Dublin pub. Starting with a sharp-tongued, widowed mother, Murray goes on to portray six women with varying degrees of success. A plot emerges as Murray changes from character to character concerning one woman’s imprisoned sons, the Twins, and the €60,000 they have hidden. We also have a neglectful son, a bride to be with cold feet, a scouser bridesmaid, a disillusioned woman working in a bookies, a pimply bartender looking for a woman and more.

All of these characters, whether they appear onstage or not, are brought to life by a skilled and vibrant lead performance. The set is entirely bare, leaving only Murray in a simple flowery dress to progress the play and captivate the audience, both of which she does with ease. The way in which she holds and controls her body and changes seamlessly, for example, from a stout country woman to a sexy Liverpudlian girl has all the markings of a fit, physical actor who takes her craft very seriously.

Complimenting all this is a varied array of facial expressions that are hilarious to look at, and strongly delivered accents that make most of the characters completely believable. Her performance is so engaging it almost draws the audience to participation. Indeed, at one point a man in the audience even responded to one of her questions! As for the script, written by Paddy Murray, it is chock full of sharp Dublin wit and wordplay and has a solid – if somewhat convoluted – plot. There are moments of absolute hilarity which really capture a sense of Dublin and make Murray’s characters all the more real. These are offset moments and observations of genuine pathos for the lonely old souls who float through Dublin pubs. Jimmy Smallhorne (also of Love/Hate fame) directs and the sound effects and music as Murray transitions all serve to enhance the script.

The play isn’t perfect. While most of the characters are very well enacted, Murray, a Dublin native herself, is at her best when inhabiting her Dublin characters, and it is the two Dubliners – the lonely widow and the woman working in the bookies – who are by far the most fleshed out, the others being more one-dimensional in comparison. The inclusion of the Asian lounge girl is the only character that jars as she is more of a stereotype than a real person, and most of the humour centred around her falls flat.

But these are small issues in what was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Mary Murray is an accomplished theatre actor who clearly loves what she does. No Smoke without Fire is a great play that will leave you in stiches – A one woman showcase well worth the trip out to Clontarf.

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