Walkabout Theatre – Next Please… – Review

Walkabout (Bewley’s Cafe) Theatre – Next Please… – Review
by Paddy McGovern

Most theatre lovers in Dublin will be familiar with Bewley’s Café Theatre and will have enjoyed many great productions in its previous locations at Powerscourt and its former Grafton St home. If the move to outdoor performance, caused by Covid precautions, presents difficulties for the group, all one can say is that they have surmounted them brilliantly in their production of Next Please, in the Summer House of St. Stephen’s Green.

Written by Aisling O’Mara, this is as fine a piece of lunchtime theatre as one could hope for. It takes us into the minds and hearts of two women whose lives have run aground while navigating their way through the usual problems of romance and relationships, compounded by the extra stresses of the current pandemic.  It is infused with warmth and pathos but is never sentimental; the writing is too clear-eyed for that. There is humour and fun too, but it aims beyond simple comedy.

Checkout girl, Jo (played by Sarah Morris) may be blunt and earthy, her jokes a bit, shall we say, indelicate, but any superficial coarseness is rooted in a determined honesty. She will call things as they are. It is a beautifully pitched performance. Covid ward nurse Melissa (played by O’Mara herself) is on the brink of discovering that a ‘failed’ relationship may be a blessing in disguise, clearing the ground for one with deeper roots, one she was unable to imagine before. Aisling O’Mara’s interpretation is the perfect foil for Morris’ Jo. Self-doubting, jolted by the loss of her neatly-laid-out future, she double checks herself, analyses and adjusts in the hope of making the right impression on Jo, though to what precise end she is unsure, at least at first.  O’Mara’s subtle performance mines the part’s complexity and self-deception to perfection. The two characters entertain us with their experiences of social media and online dating apps, but behind the hilarity, there is an undertow of loneliness and isolation. Iseult Golden’s well-paced direction highlights the fine balance between fun and seriousness.

This is a really satisfying hour of theatre, one that at any time would be worth seeing but in the present circumstances has to be considered unmissable.

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