Review: All Mod Cons, Lyric Theatre

Michael Shea, Sophie Robinson, Mariah Louca, Chris McCurry and director Ronan Phelan from the production of All Mod Cons at the Lyric Theatre
Jane Hardy

All Mod Cons

Naughton Studio, Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Erica Murray's play All Mod Cons, currently showing at the Naughton Studio, can't quite decide on its dramatic identity.

Initially a comedy based on the horrors of house-hunting, with implied critique of our materialist society, it shifts to the less 1980s-sitcom territory of the plight of grown-up siblings thrown together after their mother's death.

The linking notion is what makes a home.

Although estate agent Ian (plausible Chris McCurry) tries hard to rehabilitate the second most despised profession, attempting to convince his clients that minuscule really means 'cosy', darker plot lines lie ahead.

In fact Ms Murray, the Lyric Theatre's artist-in-residence, has a talent for sudden shifts of mood.

Possibly the best scenes involve trans Jean and Gary, left sitting on the dated beige sofa in the family home in Belfast.

They're facing a future without their mother but with a whole bucket load of issues to sort alongside their childhood mementoes Margaret, the mermaid doll, and Gary's comfort blanket.

Their exchanges are careful, affectionate, sometimes aggressive.

Although Gary - played with cockiness and a kind of laddish panache by Michael Shea - looks out for his sister, he also has questions. She escaped the local small-mindedness by going to Berlin and he asks about her life there.

There is a moment when Gary's mate Ian's behaviour towards Jean, whom he fancies, is what we imagine is going to provide the next hand grenade on stage.

Instead, Jean suddenly reveals she never met up with their mum who travelled to Germany to see her elder son, now daughter.

"I was terrified of what she was going to say."

Mariah Louca acts Jean throughout with real understanding. But this swerve is possibly a trick too far and the ensuing fight takes us into harrowing territory.

It's strong, not signposted though, and like making a short detour into Sam Shephard.

Finally, the ending reintroduces the house buyer from hell, Laura (Sophie Robinson), now considering the terraced house that belonged to Jean and Gary's mother.

Beneath the slightly unnecessary Mum's House sign, the play shows that there is a point at which you simply can't go home.

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