The Gap Year

Clare McMahon
Lyric Theatre, Belfast in association with Commedia of Errors
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Poster image for Clare McMahon's The Gap Year Credit: Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Marion O'Dwyer, Carol Moore and Libby Smyth in The Gap Year Credit: Ciaran Bagnall
Carol Moore and Frankie McCafferty in The Gap Year Credit: Ciaran Bagnall
Marion O'Dwyer and Keith Singleton in The Gap Year Credit: Ciaran Bagnall
Meghan Tyler, Libby Smyth and Carol Moore in The Gap Year Credit: Ciaran Bagnall

Clare McMahon’s perky, poignant and pleasing comedy The Gap Year at the Lyric Belfast is the latest in a growing body of work by female writers placing contemporary female experience on Northern Ireland’s stages.

Commissioned as part of the Lyric’s New Writing Programme and featured in its online audio series Listen at the Lyric in 2020, it makes its way onto the venue’s main stage in a personable co-production with the Belfast-based Commedia of Errors, directed by Benjamin Gould.

A tale of three sexagenarian women finding themselves at a crossroads in their lives who decide to take the road less travelled—a campervan tour through all of Ireland’s 32 counties—it’s a piece that makes much of the distinctive interlacing of surface lightness and deeper undercurrents that marked McMahon’s earlier Shakespeare’s Women and I Am Maura.

With a glancing, backwards nod towards Marie Jones’s Women on the Verge of HRT, it doesn’t yet feel fully focused—the first half would benefit from some trimming or faster pacing, and individual story arcs need a touch more pointing—but there is enough meat on the bone of the writing and some strong performances beginning to fill out that bodes well for the remainder of the run.

McMahon is well-served by her central trio of leads and three multi-tasking supports, and by Gould who creates the agreeable impression of The Gap Year as an ensemble piece with a delicate deftness to mirror McMahon’s own lightness of touch.

Seamlessly switching from funny to stoic to achingly moving, Carol Moore turns in a characteristically finely-tuned performance, simultaneously precise and underplayed, as the newly widowed Kate. Unable to grieve in public because of private guilt, she struggles to know now who she is, as she volunteers in a painful, plaintive confessional: “I always found it hard to put me first.”

As taken-for-granted childminding grandmother Roisin, Libby Smyth nurses her own secret fear as she grapples with the early onset of Alzheimer’s. The subtle inking in of the increasingly debilitating illness in McMahon’s writing and Smyth’s performance are both discreetly managed, and all the more effective and touching for it.

Completing the unholy trinity is Marion O’Dwyer’s empty-nesting Oonagh, purgatorially suspended between contemplating divorce from a husband she still loves and a new life promised by her dalliance with a younger lothario.

Playing more than a dozen characters, Frankie McCafferty, Keith Singleton and Meghan Tyler (whose drunken, disgruntled partygoer Alison—“I’m 24. He has robbed me of the best years of my life!”—is a scene-stealing delight) all feed into proceedings with aplomb. As does a vivacious cameo appearance by Matthew Cavan in drag-diva guise in an audience-pleasing videoed insert.

Kudos, too, to Gould’s fresh and funny way with character-inhabited scene changes in swiftly-handled shifts of location.

Witty, warm and wise, The Gap Year shows again McMahon as a writer of potential and growing confidence and ability.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn