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Port Authority

Conor McPherson
Liverpool Everyman
(2005)

Port Authority publicity photograph

With just three men and three chairs, over an hour and twenty minutes, Port Authority weaves three tales of the emotionally grey into a compelling, occasionally moving tapestry of failure and loss.

Kevin moves from his home into a bohemian squat full of wannabe bands and drug users. He falls hopelessly in love with housemate Claire, but can never tell her, plays no part in any of the bands he follows, and finally falls away back to his parents’ home and his student girlfriend. Dermot finds himself accepted accidentally into the world of international media, a dizzying world of jet setting and cocaine. He fails, ludicrously and pathetically, returning finally to the world of mediocrity he came from, to a wife who fell in love with him because he was a mediocrity. Stoical, upright Joe stands at the end of his years, content with his sensible life, dismissing his one great romantic passion as a nonsense.

While the three monologues are set against, and reflect, the changes in Irish society over the past forty years, this is a play for anyone who has ever chosen the reasonable over the risk, who has drawn back from the possibility of brilliance, preferring instead the quiet, safe grey of the sensible life.

Structurally McPherson is back on safe ground; there is no dialogue, no interaction between the three characters. Instead we have McPherson’s trademark monologues, weaving around each other, occasionally sharing motifs, but refusing to engage each other fully. In a sense this is to be regretted; McPherson showed in The Weir that he was capable of writing beautifully observed and balanced dialogue, and by abandoning it in Port Authority he has taken, structurally at least, a step backward.

McPherson makes enormous demands on his audience; a lot of information is packed into the three monologues, motifs flash by and concentration is required to follow the often complex events. The decision to run three video screens behind the actors, showing close ups of their faces, distracts, certainly at the beginning of the play, as do the sudden bursts of extremely loud, mood breaking music.

McPherson’s greatest demands by far are on his actors; there is nowhere to hide in a McPherson play, and his actors need to be powerful character actors as well as expert story tellers. Director Matthew Dunster has cast the play superbly: Matthew Dunphy, Ruairi Conaghan, and Ciaran McIntyre all manage to show the varying qualities that could have led their characters to their own personal brilliance, and the weakness and fear that ensured they never would.

Port Authority isn’t an easy piece, it demands concentration but it rewards with a beautifully observed piece about the also-rans of life, and about the cost of the safe option. While I was left hoping that McPherson will risk developing his demonstrated talent for dialogue, Port Authority remains powerful and affecting theatre, a clarion call to courage, and certainly worth a look.

"Port Authority" runs at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre until 19th March

Reviewer: Ged Quayle