Paddy goes to Petra

Áine Ryan
Studio Perform Theatre Company
The Jack Studio Theatre

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Brendan Dunlea in Padding Goes To Petra Credit: Steve Gregson
Brendan Dunlea in Padding Goes To Petra Credit: Steve Gregson
Brendan Dunlea in Padding Goes To Petra Credit: Steve Gregson

It is Paddy’s personal journey that lies at the centre of Paddy goes to Petra and not his cross-country travels to reach this somewhat off-beat, archaeological tourist destination in Jordan, a country surrounded by Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel and the West Bank.

For middle-aged farmer Paddy and his wife, touring has become something they do based on cheap flights from Shannon, not to broaden the mind but to escape from family tragedy and the oppressive, sympathetic looks of neighbours in a small community where everyone knows your business.

We hear how Paddy has trailed behind his wife, seeing city-break sites only from hotel balconies, and then we witness a gently powerful change inside the man when he arrives in Petra.

Exchanging a figurative cloak of apparent coping for an actual Bedouin coat, he becomes immersed in the life of the city, transforming inside and out, coaxed towards a new way of seeing by the indescribable natural beauty, the spirit of the ancient place, the local hospitality and the contemplative lifestyle.

So drawn is he to the city and his new friends that he feigns losing his passport so that he can stay behind, alone, whilst his wife goes on to the next destination as scheduled.

On his own in this new place unrestricted by the expectations of others, Paddy finds himself in The Lost City.

Brendan Dunlea’s performance is understated and charming. Tipperary playwright Áine Ryan’s often lyrical words are fitting for his tender, wounded Paddy to speak.

Ryan is perhaps too far different from a middle-aged man for the storyline to be entirely convincing, even with Dunlea’s skills behind it. The ending feels rather lightweight, a landmark but lacking resolve, and as director, Ryan could perhaps be more decisive about this for a firmer finish. Whilst she is considering it, she could also be less tolerant of one or two of the clichés and give them the snip.

Eyal Arad and Cáit Ní Riain’s music and Alex Forey’s sunset-hued lighting fill out the atmosphere around Constance Comparot’s draped, unfussy set beyond which lies one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In front of this, there is a monochrome-lit space that creates Ireland. The transition is not harsh but it reflects the darkly moving way that Paddy is back to being more lost than found when he returns to his farm.

Ultimately, Paddy, our unlikely hero, is revealed to be like Petra: part-carved from the raw material of the landscape, part-man-built and fully able to withstand the ravages of time.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti