A Night in November

Marie Jones

Tricycle Theatre

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Marie Jones currently has one of the greatest successes on the London stage, Stones in His Pockets. A Night in November was written before that play but shares many similar traits. It is a one-man show but that man, Kenneth McCallister (played by Marty Maguire), dissolves into numerous different parts.

Jones' writing is often very sharp and once she gets into the swing of things can be absolutely hilarious. She also has many delightful turns of phrase which convey a vast amount in few words - "Jiggery Popery" sums up one attitude to the Irish problem in two words.

McCallister works at the dole office. He may be a Protestant but this makes him almost as much of a hated man within his community as if he were actually a Fenian (Catholic). It is not much fun being the lowest of the low and, despite a seemingly happy family life, he starts the play about to reach a mid-life crisis. His crisis must inevitably mirror that of his countr,y which at the time of the play, 1994, is evaluating the Downing Street Declaration.

In addition to the political rhetoric and analysis, the Irish love of football forms a basic theme of the play. Initially, the World Cup qualifying rounds have thrown up a match between the two parts of Ireland. As McCallister says, "This is not a football match - this is a battlefield".

With the help of his father-in-law, Ernie, a tremendously believable bigot, we see the hatred that seethes in the country and is manifested through football. The hilariously-drawn pensioner throws himself into football songs that glorify murderers. This is too much for the mild mannered civil servant who goes into revolt.

Despite his election to the golf club, a mark of local esteem (not to mention religious bias), he befriends his Catholic boss and begins to attain a more balanced view. This is entirely unacceptable to his wife and community.

A sudden revelation hits our hero about two hours into the play and this is represented by a breath-taking coup de theatre. Almost without explanation, he takes his savings off to New York to support the wrong half of Ireland in the World Cup finals. Whereas his trip to Windsor Park for the qualifying match was characterised by hatred, everything is different in New York. Suddenly it is almost a love story as the Irish stick together regardless of religion and nationality. This may not be entirely believable but it is enjoyable.

Almost all of the best laughs come in the final stages of the play as Ireland take on Italy in what must have been the biggest match in their history. Now we see what having fun is all about and like so many husbands who desert their wives for a chance to relive their youths, Kenneth is in his element.

A Night in November starts a little slowly and would benefit from some pruning before the interval. In addition, some of its sentiments are rather too simplistic in their analysis of the Irish political situation. Having said that, while it may not quite be another Stones in His Pockets, it is often very funny and sometimes surprisingly perceptive both about the Irish problem and humanity in general. It is also a major success for Marty Maguire, who, under the direction of Tim Byron Owen, gives an excellent and remarkably energetic performance.