Written by Billy Roche. Directed by Conor McPherson. Starring Dawn Bradfield, Laurence Kinlan, Don Wycherley, Garrett Keogh, Andrea Irvine, Liam Cunningham. The Gate Theatre, Dublin, until 07 May.
Taking up the theme of life in Wexford in the late 1970s, Billy Roche's 'Poor Beast In The Rain' intrigues by its innate ordinariness – there are no murders and no explosions in this play.
Indeed, most refreshingly, there is also no reference at all to what, at that time at least, would have been the all-encompassing issue called The National Question.
Instead the drama is hung around a very innocent event in Irish society – an All Ireland Final.
Joe, played to comic effect with some relish by Don Wycherley, and his young counterpart Georgie (Laurence Kinlan) are both regulars at a bookmakers in Wexford town.
The two are chomping at the bit to go to Dublin and see their county in action, and enjoy banter in the opening scenes with the bookmaker’s daughter Eileen (Dawn Bradfield) and employee Molly (Andrea Irvine). When Molly is heard singing to herself in the background, Joe wryly observes that "someone must have told her she has legs like a lark".
However, the unexpected return of Danger Doyle, a character long gone but not forgotten by Molly, Joe or Eileen’s unassuming father (Garret Keogh), sees feelings of lost youth, sadness and resentment come to the surface.
The rehashing of old capers, unrequited love and deep-seated bitterness by Joe, Molly and Stephen respectively prompted by Doyle’s return is joined by another lop-sided love interest in the play between Georgie and Eileen.
Kinlan is reunited here with director Conor McPherson, who also cast him in his adaptation of his own drama 'The Lime Tree Bower' as 2000’s excellent film 'Saltwater'. Kinlan takes this role, as he has in other productions such as Joel Schumacher’s 'Veronica Guerin', in his stride and is surely one of Irish acting’s more promising young talents.
Ironically enough, it is the outsider Doyle who sees fit to bring up the stultifying effect of the small town they all grew up in, suggesting perhaps that he is the only character who has tried to come to terms with the issue.
As the drama unfolds and comes to an unexpected and yet somehow fittingly muted close, Roche’s script shines a light on the profound disappointment with life felt equally by each of the characters, even if some are afraid to admit it even to themselves.
It is this overarching point that gives this understated drama its thematic potency, and is ultimately what is most rewarding about this tour de force.