Not Now (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: November 4, 2022 in Theatre

Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Writer: David Ireland

Director: Max Elton


Perhaps a David Ireland play would not be a David Ireland play if it failed to question Northern Irish identity. Irish or British? Both or neither? Not Now, receiving its English premier here, continues that tradition, but expands its themes to explore false identities assumed by ordinary individuals in everyday life.

In plays such as Cyprus Avenue, Ireland’s other most notable trademark has been black, sometimes savage, comedy. That style is hardly evident in this miniature gem, being replaced by a much gentler, even warm-hearted, strain of humour. A breakfast table, set for four with a cafetière as its centrepiece, dominate Ceci Calf’s neat design, but only two characters appear: Matthew (Matthew Blaney), an aspiring actor about to depart for London to audition for RADA, and his uncle Ray (Stephen Kennedy) who remains rooted in Belfast, believing, as he approaches his 50th birthday, that life’s opportunities have passed him by.

It is the morning after the funeral of Matthew’s father, Ray’s brother, who, it seems, could have been living a lie. The play’s comedy emerges from the contrasts between the cultured, ambitious Matthew and his less enlightened uncle, who has trouble distinguishing George Michael from George Clooney. Ray is baffled by the world that Matthew is entering, one in which David Hare is a “Sir” and the supposed greatest, William Shakespeare is not. Fair point, but his own nomination for greatest writer of all time is Stephen King.

In brisk and very funny exchanges, superbly acted, the characters’ outer layers are stripped away and their true selves are revealed.Matthew’s audition piece is to be the opening speech from Shakespeare’s Richard III, hammed up hilariously by Blaney. Later, when Matthew accepts Ray’s challenge to deliver the speech in his own Belfast accent, all the artifice falls away naturally, making a stinging point about theatre technique which could have been noted by director Max Elton, whose quietly effective production never feels over-cooked.

Bringing to mind the playwright’s previous work, it comes as a surprise that this latest play includes no acts of violence. There is a clear sense that Ireland has great affection for the two characters and the actors bring this out beautifully. Playing for a mere 50 minutes, Not Now is a human comedy, pared down to its bare essentials. Not a syllable is wasted and it is not a second too long.

Performance date: 3 November 2022

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