Artistic director Mark Babych directs the regional premiere of leading Irish playwright Conor McPherson's 2004 play Shining City at the Octagon in Bolton.
In a rather run-down office in Dublin, Ian, who trained as a priest before parting company with the church, is setting himself up as a therapist. John, his client, believes he has seen the ghost of his recently deceased wife in their house and has had to move into a hotel. Neasa is the mother of Ian's baby, but after insisting that she went through with her pregnancy, he isn't sure he wants to be with her any more. As Ian helps John to pull his life back together by confronting some of the skeletons in his closet, Ian's life begins to fracture and he becomes uncertain of his faith, his vocation, his relationship and even his sexuality, which is where rent boy Laurence comes in.
McPherson's plays tend to be subtle slices of exaggerated life that wash over you and immerse you in the characters' lives and problems. His dialogue drifts between fractured bits of words, half-sentences and pauses and lengthy confessional monologues; when delivered with perfect pace and timing this is extremely effective, but if the timing is wrong it becomes stilted and meaningless.
The therapy session is an ideal setting for McPherson's trademark storytelling scenes; many of his earliest plays consisted entirely of actors telling stories to the audience. The patterning between scenes and between the experiences of different characters is very subtle but brilliantly effective.
The Octagon's production is rather uneven. George Irving as John carries every scene he is in beautifully, from his initial nervous first consultation to a scene that is almost entirely a monologue from him about guilty secrets from his marriage. Irving tells his story in a very quiet, laid-back manner that really draws you in. Paul McCleary as Ian seems much less comfortable with the dialogue, resulting in lots of unnaturally-timed pauses and a nervousness that seems to be the actor's rather than the character's. The second scene where Ian tells Neasaplayed by Mairead Conneelythat he wants them to break up just doesn't work at all, as McCleary appears distracted almost to the point of indifference and Conneely goes for full emotional intensity, and the rhythm of the whole scene seems wrong.
Dawn Allsopp's set consists simply of a line of shelves and cupboards across the back, a sofa and a desk with a visible attic containing piled-up furniture, which works well. A nice touch is the stairway up to the office, which is portrayed entirely through footsteps and echoing voices that make it seem as though they are climbing a massive staircase to get into the room.
The play is quite short, running at just an hour and forty minutes with no interval. There is, as always with McPherson, some wonderful writing in this play and there are some excellent moments in the production at the Octagon. However there is also a lot that falls very wide of the mark, and if it wasn't for Irving's wonderful performance this could be quite a dreary production.