Cold Comfort
  • By Kat Pope
  • |
  • 15th May 2013
  • |
  • ★★★★

From the moment the man pulls the trousers off the corpse lying in the coffin and puts them on himself, you realise this play is going to be irreverent.

As a study in self-hatred this little piece works very well.

Set in an old-fashioned sitting room, Cold Comfort is a one-man piece by Irish contemporary playwright Owen McCafferty. The one man is Kevin (Padraig Breathnach), an all-round loser. A failed husband and a failed son, he likes a drink or six.

Swigging on a bottle of whisky throughout, Kevin hops and lurches around the coffin-dominated stage like a drunken flea, yattering on to the dead dad he hasn't seen in more than 15 years ("You don't look well, you know.") Later on, he's joined by an imaginary mother and wife, although it's unclear whether they are actually still alive.

"I haven't talked to people like this for I don't know how long!" he exclaims joyfully, as he chats to the three most important people in his life, one actually present if a bit cadaverous, the other two plonked on chairs by his imagination.

This hour-long play, ably directed by Aine King, is a cry of self-loathing, a fuzzy attempt to understand why a life can go so off the tracks; not in a spectacular way, but in a boring, humdrum cavalcade of failed marriages, lost jobs and far, far too much booze.

Kevin is achingly desperate to know why his mum walked out on them both when he was just a kid. Was it his dad's drinking and emotional frigidity or was it something Kevin did himself? Was he not a good enough son to keep her near him? On stage and in his head he veers between mum and dad, mum and dad, mum and dad. Who was the villain? Was anyone a saint?

As he drinks, he descends into helpless anger at his parents, at wife Theresa, but mostly and most painfully, at himself. Never mawkish, his collapse is heart-wrenching to watch.

Breathnach keeps it all together superbly and conjours up the invisible presences with both verbal and physical skill. He also has an excellent handle on the black humour running through the thought-provoking, if bleak, script.

There are two quite shocking moments towards the end of the play, one of which, in a way, brings the piece and its theme of parental love (its importance, and consequences if lacking) full circle. The other is an outburst of such brutal physicality that although you'll actually hear cushions being punched, you will think you hear flesh being well and truly pounded to pulp.

As a study in self-hatred this little piece works very well: as a lesson in how to behave at your dad's wake, well, don't....just don't.

Reviews by Kat Pope

Since you’re here…

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Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
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The Blurb

Kevin hasn’t been home for twenty years. Now, at his father’s wake, he’s telling some home truths. McCafferty’s hypnotic wordplay creates a humorous, haunting portrait of love, frailty and loss. A compelling voice among the latest generation of Irish playwrights, McCafferty defies stereotypes and assumptions. Padraig Breathnach gives a searing solo performance as drunken, broken Kevin. Directed by Áine King.

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