19th Street Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
This fifty-minute two-hander has strong undercurrents below its surface of comedy. It is set in the Ballybeen district of Belfast, where dramatist David Ireland comes from, and the shadow of the Troubles hangs over it but although Matthew and his uncle Ray would seem to be Protestant Unionists, its concerns are much wider than sectarian issues.
Teenager Matthew (Matthew Blaney) is already getting breakfast spreading jam on toast before the lights go down. He’s up early for he is flying to England this morning. He has an audition at one this afternoon in London at RADA and he wants to run through his audition speech before the others get up. It's Gloucester’s opening speech from Richard III. He has just got into it, all angled limbs in his best RP voice, when he realises uncle Ray (Stephen Kennedy) has come downstairs and is watching.
Embarrassed, Matthew wants him to clear off, but Ray isn’t having it. It is a difficult time for the family. They buried Matthew’s dad (Ray’s brother) only yesterday. Ray has promised Matthew’s mother he’ll be supportive to his nephew: he is planning to drive him to the airport. Ray is worried about getting him there on time, Matthew about his preparedness for his audition. Ray’s comments and questions aren’t really helping.
Painter and decorator Ray, nearly fifty, is kindly and trying to be helpful, but Shakespeare isn’t really his world. Though he has some Shakespeare DVDs (that he hasn’t yet got round to watching), Stephen King is more his choice, though he’s only read one of his books.
Ray doesn’t see why his nephew has to put on an English accent and suggests that he turn on his Irish charm when he faces the people at what Ray calls RADAR; Matthew declares he doesn’t have any and is adamant that he’s British, not Irish.
Matthew doesn’t take too well to Ray’s questions and comments, though some of his suggestions sink in. There’s gentle humour in the difference between their ideas about drama schools, Ray’s knowledge of Shakespeare and muddled memory for names, but there are more serious undercurrents. It isn’t just the audition that unsettles Matthew. His father’s death has brought other questions forward, for this is a family with secrets and this is a play about identity and being past lies to the truth of things.
Director Max Elton has drawn totally convincing performances from his two actors. They work together beautifully. Blaney gives us the youngster’s struggle to find confidence, his eager enthusiasm dragged down by distrust. “Everyone is pretending,” says Ray of the situation in Ulster, but Kennedy makes him feel totally truthful, open and honest, touchingly moving as he reveals his own truths.
You may spend most of Not Now gently laughing, but it is what is beneath that you will remember. It is fifty enjoyable minutes well spent.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton