Theatre review: Halcyon Days at the Viking Theatre, Dublin
Directions Out Theatre Company
Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Dublin
Written by Deirdre Kinahan
Director: Joe Devlin
Cast: Úna Crawford, Bryan Murray
1st February 2019
Halcyon Days starts out as a charming light-hearted comedy of misunderstandings and miscommunication that seems to be leading towards love and friendship, Deirdre Kinahan revealing once again after recent successes of Rathmines Road and The Unmanageable Sisters at the Abbey Theatre, that she knows what makes people tick, the things that matter to them and how they deal with what life throws at them. Since the play takes part in a nursing home it's perhaps inevitable that health issues will arise, but the delicacy of Joe Devlin's direction ensures that the journey to its destination is a smooth progression that has a meaningful purpose.
It's the sympathetic performances of Úna Crawford and Bryan Murray, deeply immersed in character as Patricia and Sean, that immediately attract and draw the audience into a play about an unconventional friendship/romance (perhaps friendship on one side, the notion of romance on the other) in the inauspicious and unlikely surroundings of a nursing home for the elderly and the infirm. It's a note-perfect and completely natural delivery of two engaging characters, but the brilliance of the performances lie in how they tap into the spirit and the essential human qualities of Kinahan's writing.
There's not much room for optimism for two people in a nursing home and despite his infirmity and cloudiness of mind, Sean (Bryan Murray) is all too aware of the reality that neither he nor Patricia (Úna Crawford), a lady who has recently befriended him, will ever be leaving the place. It hardly seems worth the effort to make any new friendships in such a place, so Sean is initially a little reserved in their encounters. Patricia however doesn't accept his pessimistic outlook; her illness is only a temporary setback and she will soon be back home with her sister Nora.
There may not be much of a future there either though, particularly Nora and Patricia are having difficulties holding onto their house. Once an actor of some renown on stage and screen, Sean also has the feeling that his best days are behind him and that life has thrown him on the scrapheap. Perhaps Sean has the right idea after all; just accept that the best of life is over, the halcyon days are in the past and it's a matter of taking a back seat now and just letting the rest of the world get on with it.
In some ways then Halcyon Days is about coming to terms with mortality, with the idea that life moves on and you have no choice but to let such inevitabilities take their course. It's a condition you don't necessarily have to be in a nursing home to be able to relate to, but what Sean learns from Patricia is that we don't just sit and wait for that day to come, but that we accept that it will come and just get on with what is important today in the meantime. The here and the now are our halcyon days.
It's a message that has particular resonance now with the recognition of the scale of the problem of dementia and medical efforts to deal with it, for the impact it has on the person who is afflicted and for those who are close to them. Halcyon Days incidentally picks up on the power of music to recapture those memories and bring out the best in people, but rather than go down the route of nostalgia and memory the play has another important lesson that is essentially based in the here and now.
What is perhaps worse than having to face up to recognition of your own mortality or dealing with the idea of just giving up on life, is the idea of doing it on your own. Directed by Joe Devlin for Directions Out, Kinahan's Halcyon Days benefits from the intimacy of the small Viking Theatre in Clontarf and in such conditions the warmth and beauty of the play's message is brought out, telling us that what us that what we all need is friendship and company. The most important thing you can do is to be there for someone, and that's no small lesson to be delivered from such a modest one-act drama.