As one might expect—the sense of an ending hangs over Oonagh Wall’s bittersweet Keeping Vigil. It is not, however, the conclusion of life but rather the more mundane cutting of communal links and the realisation some hopes and ambitions will never be realised.
Ardan (Éanna Grogan) once had ambitions to leave the rural Irish town in which he resides and move to America. Yet, possibly because he assumed caring responsibilities for his ailing grandmother, Ardan did not pursue his aspirations. On grandmother’s passing, Ardan’s cousin Nish (Amy Kidd)—who attends university in Dublin—accepts his invitation to take part in an Irish Catholic tradition and spend the night before the funeral staying awake and keeping watch over the body. Nish is unaware, however, that old friend Pitch (Adam Richardson) has long held a torch for her and hopes to use the occasion to make his move.
Oonagh Wall’s script walks a fine line between cynical humour and bruised romance. None of the characters really respects the ritual in which they are participating. Ardan and Pitch use grandmother’s fondness for a drink as an excuse to get plastered and the latter’s idea of keeping vigil without leaving the room involves peeing in a bucket. Nish is realising she no longer fits in with her rural hometown and accepting she can visit but never truly settle.
The atmosphere of the play is boozy and confused. Éanna Grogan shows Ardan’s faint resentment that grandmother’s major concern was Nish’s progress in university despite him being her main care-giver. There is the realisation the underachieving Ardan no longer has an excuse to stay in his hometown and might have to find the courage to leave. In a key scene, Amy Kidd struggles to articulate Nish’s relationship with Pitch and all she can manage is that they are "friends with a small ‘f’".
Keeping Vigil is a melancholy study of unfulfilled hopes and lingering regrets made all the more powerful by the characters being at the start, rather than the end, of their lives.
Reviewer: David Cunningham