The Life and Soul

Chris O’Connor
Jen Sullivan in association with Red Ladder Theatre Company
Park Theatre

Simon James Bailie Credit: Modu Sesay.
Simon James Bailie Credit: Modu Sesay.
Simon James Bailie Credit: Modu Sesay.

Chris O’Connor’s play The Life and Soul opens in a deceptively light amusing manner. The character Jim (Simon James Bailie) strides onto the stage as if he is one of our fast-talking mates who ought to be doing stand-up comedy. We can imagine him to be the life and soul of a gathering. But the monologue soon shifts from jokes to memories of his life and a rumbling depression he has never really dealt with

The set is one of the older pubs in the West of London, a place Jim describes as more real than the new pubs which are increasingly replacing them.

Jim is second generation Irish. His father was also regarded as the life and soul of a gathering. Jim was first taken to a pub at the age of six and drank his first pint at the age of twelve before redecorating the toilets with what he had drunk.

He grew up supporting Queens Park Rangers and felt when he went to the matches with his mates that there was some kind of hope that things could be different. As time went on, the mates drifted away or settled down.

He was bored by the jobs he obtained post-school till a friend got him cooking and selling food down at the market, something that felt more real to him and for a time lifted the clouds of depression, particularly as it led to him meeting a woman he liked enough to start a relationship with.

Unfortunately, his fragile sense of security undermines these things and deaths in the family deepen his depression.

Simon James Bailie gives a fine, convincing performance as Jim, constantly moving about the stage, his body’s nervous energy reflecting a restless mind. Occasionally, he physically gives the lie to the toughness Jim is so keen to claim. When he says of his mother’s death that he "felt fuck all", tears roll down his cheek.

Chris O’Connor’s short thirty-five minute play draws attention to the terrible difficulties many men have in dealing with a depression their supposed toughness tells them they can’t even admit. But as Chris O’Connor shows, even the life and soul of a gathering can be struggling with dangerous levels of depression.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna