Paddy (Brendan Dunlea) leads a traditional life in rural Ireland. He has a wife, two children (a boy and a girl) and some cattle. It’s the sort of existence that could have lasted a lifetime had he and Ailís not developed a love of travel. It started out with the fairly obvious cheap trips to France and Spain courtesy of Ryanair, but the wanderlust soon grew and the destinations became more exotic, reaching a climax with the life-changing journey to Jordan.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening of storytelling that has some surprising and moving moments
The story was inspired by playwright/director Áine Ryan’s own trip to the region, the friends she made among local Bedouins and the many trails she followed through the rocky terrain in which the city is located. We learn a lot about the region from Paddy, but it is his inner journey that really captivates. As it unfolds, layer upon layer of heartache and pain are balanced by the joys he experienced and the memories he holds. Now embracing another life in the company of Diego, his local guide and companion, he finds satisfaction in the solitude of his own cave.
He starts the journey to Jordan with his wife, but such is Paddy’s passion for Petra he finds a way to send her on the rest of the trip without him. Her story would make an interesting play, as she makes her own discoveries and unearths a side of herself that had lain dormant for some time. Paddy is thus able to console himself with the thought that she’ll be alright without him, at least for now. One event in her tale provides a twist in his story but it is the family tragedy a few years before that dominates his thoughts in the desert. He has much to come to terms with that in Ireland he was forever surrounded by. Here, with a new landscape, he can find relief and perhaps some understanding. Why would he want to leave?
Dunlea tells Paddy’s story with a good measure of Irish wit, unflinchingly deploying his Cork accent to make melody from the highs and lows of his tale. He exudes warmth and fellowship which he demonstrates as he takes on the voices of others in his saga and regales us with incidents that bring both the people and the situations to life. He also knows how to delicately wear his heart upon his sleeve and share with us all that has brought him not just to a physical location but a stage in his life where he has learned to love himself. There’s much to be gained from how he approaches life, deals with the past and seizes opportunities.
Dunlea’s heartfelt performance is supported by some beautiful contributions from the team of creatives. The stage at the Jack Studio is transformed by Constance Comporat to capture the Jordanian look. ‘Persian’ rugs adorn the floors with four sets of pastel drapes hanging either side of a raised platform, allowing for exits and entrances to various locations. The old suitcases and a globe are reminders of his travels and the Arabic tea tray speaks for the hospitality he receives. Alex Forey sensitively lights all of this, further enhancing the changing moods. Music by Cáit Ní Riain & Eyal Arad blends Irish and Arabian instruments and sounds that accompany most scenes, reminding us of the combination of the two cultures, suggesting where he has come from and where he is now living his new-found existence.
The rapport Dunlea maintains with his audience makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of storytelling that has some surprising and moving moments.