The Gentlemen's Tea Drinking Society

Richard Dormer
Ransom Productions
Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast, and touring

Production photo - Richard Dormer

On Belfast’s Ormeau Road, the multicultural interface which inspired Owen McCafferty’s seminal play, Mojo Mickybo, there is, records writer and performer Richard Dormer, the following thoughtfully advised and topical graffito: 'How can quantum gravity explain the origin of the universe?'

This was the inspiration behind The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society, says the man whose previous work as author/actor, also directed by Rachel O’Riordan for Ransom Productions and premiered in O’Mac, the Old Museum Arts Centre, includes his striking Hurricane, the charismatic ally energetic bio-drama of the ongoing life of snooker ace Hurricane Higgins.

The Society of the title was first initiated some twenty years ago when its four surviving members were but callow undergraduates so the revelation that the livery of their common caucus involves wearing bus conductors’ caps and a veritable ministry of silly walks comes as confirmation that all is well with their world.

Which of course it isn’t. The decades have taken their toll of bruised ambitions, failed marriages and defeat by the demon drink. Tea has never dominated their rituals. The apparently otherwise complete and urbane Simon (Howard Teale), a sociologist, is confined to a wheelchair. Welshman Larry ( David Ireland), looking like a miniaturised Brian Blessed, was once a master of maths. Now an alcoholic, he’s dull as a pub quiz addict. Moustachioed Frank (Matthew Flynn) has swopped high flying academia for the role of a writer of populist books on science.

So far so Goon Show. And then there’s Richard Dormer’s physically and mentally manic Brian, a loner who, if we are to believe him, has not only replicated a Large Hadron Collider, not in Switzerland’s CERN or Illinois’s Fremilab, but in a forgotten section of the Circle Line in London’s Underground, but having done so in the pay of a secret arm of government, has created the elusive and previously undiscovered Higgs Boson, one of the two most powerful particles in the universe.

The problem is, says Brian, downing Scotch by the bottle, that the powers that be would like the particle back and dead. In escaping from England’s Dr Strangeloves, his burlesquery of a James Bond adventure has resulted in dozens of deaths, and, any moment now, the end of the universe.

Enlivened, is that were possible, by composer David Holmes (Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13) soundtrack, director Rachel O’Riordan’s partnership with Dormer’s minutely stylised movements, evokes all that is expected of Ransom, an almost total theatrical delight, delivered with almost the energy of that elusive Higgs Boson.

If there are quibbles, they are confined to Matthew Flynn’s cheap suits, unworthy of a tele-celebrity such as Frank, plus his inability to match the absurd intensity of his co-performers.

Oh yes, and Frank’s wicker basket. Obviously a set up for a joke about Schrödinger’s Cat it fails, as does, so far, so much in quantum mechanics and particle physics, to ignite. But maybe the audience had activated Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which dictates, roughly, that observance changes the observed.

Touring to Newry, Limerick, Tralee, Londonderry, Monaghan, Armagh, Coleraine, Downpatrick, Lisburn and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

Reviewer: Ian Hill