All Mod Cons – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
18 May – 09 June 2019
All Mod Cons is a new play from Erica Murray, who is currently the Lyric Theatre’s Artist-in-Residence, a post previously held by Rosemary Jenkinson and Peter Wilson. She has participated in the Lyrics’ fantastic initiative, the New Playwright’s Programme, which is where All Mod Cons was initially developed and it is heartening to see new work being supported in this way.
All Mod Cons is a play about house-hunting, uncomfortable truths and self-discovery.
After the death of their mother, siblings Jean and Gary find themselves back under the same roof for the first time in 8 years.
Following her transition, Jean has been living in Berlin, but decides to return home and make a new start in Belfast, hoping to find a more liberal, accepting city. With the help of an old friend and estate agent, Ian, they set about looking for a new place to live but find that fresh starts can be difficult to navigate.
As old tensions start to bubble to the surface, Jean and Gary begin to question whether this move is going to make them or break them.
Diane Ennis’s functional set splits the Naughton stage in two, with Jean and Gary’s childhood home on one side and the flats and houses they are visiting on the other. Addresses are projected onto the back wall, guiding the audience around these potential homes. A striking soundscape by Katie Richardson drives the action from one scene to another.
Michael Shea invests Gary with a boyish charm and swagger, his laid-back hipster persona is a comic masterclass, but it soon develops into a performance of real emotional depth. Maria Louca is a confident and comfortable presence on stage as Jean, who initially seems to be the most together of the characters, but who is also hiding a dark secret that she needs to face up to.
Chris McCurry excels as the reluctant estate agent, whose pathetic desperation not just to sell houses, but to be loved, masks something much darker. The fact that he provides most of the comic relief at the start of the production means that when his true nature is revealed it comes as a real shock.
Fellow house-hunter Laura, although winningly played by Sophie Robinson, at times feels like little more than a plot device, with scenes that do not really move the action on as they should.
There is an issue with the pacing at times and despite a strong opening and a well-constructed finale, there are moments where the play lags – some further editing could create a punchier, tighter production.
However, under the steady hand of director Ronan Phelan, this is a strong and intelligent new work. All Mod Cons uses the property market to explore the idea of how we define and redefine ourselves and how we come to terms with our past. Like the houses they are viewing, these are characters who are desperate to paper over the flaws and the failures in their lives, but the cracks always show through.
Moving house is a way of moving on, but what do you do when you cannot move on from yourself and from your background? In an inspired touch, Jean and Gary bond over the childhood game of Guess Who? but find that true identity is a lot more difficult to hide or to discover.
All Mod Cons is an intelligent, thoughtful and incisive comic drama that raises interesting questions about identity and society in contemporary Northern Ireland and marks Erica Murray out as a real talent to watch.
Mariah Louca – Jean
Chris McCurry – Ian
Sophie Robinson – Laura
Michael Shea – Gary
Erica Murray – Writer
Ronan Phelan – Director
Diana Ennis – Set & Costume
Sarah Jane Shiels – Lighting
Katie Richardson – Composer & Sound Design