Rum and Vodka

Rum and Vodka, the 1992 debut play by Olivier Award-winning playwright Conor McPherson, is a simple and effective one man show. A young man, sitting on a plain wooden chair, recounts the mad drunken rampage on which he has spent the last three days, destroying most of the things he cares about, and causing a lot of collateral damage in the process.

A very strong production made all the more impressive by the fact that the actor and director Stephen Darcy are still both very early in their careers.

It’s a very good play, and the script is extremely strong. On paper, the character McPherson presents is fairly unlikable: unfaithful, endlessly selfish, violent alcoholic. However, even as he is recounting his awful deeds, he brings in just enough self-awareness that he softens our criticism by forestalling it. He's an intelligent guy (as he tells us several times), and McPherson treads exactly the right balance between giving him as much self-knowledge as he needs to be sympathetic, and not so much that it stretches credulity that he should be in this mess.

Citizens Theatre Actor Intern Martin Donaghy gives a wonderful performance. The play requires him to be incredibly endearing and sympathetic if we are to stay with him for his whole mad adventure, and he does it with room to spare. He is perhaps at his strongest when describing the very worst, most indefensibly violent things he has done. Donaghy relates the events plainly, but infuses his performance with a sort of wonder at his own actions that allows us to see him as something of an innocent.

The costume and set design let the side down a little. Donaghy's costume (made during a Citizens Theatre workshop) includes a jacket that cost, we are told, £500 (almost £1000 in today's money), and was chosen for him by a monied woman with excellent taste. It is impossible to believe either of that jacket. The set by Neil Haynes and Jamie Hayes has the merit of being simple, which suits the play very well, but they have chosen a symbolic approach that seriously lacks subtlety–in a play about an alcoholic, they line the edges of the stage with bottles of alcohol.

Aesthetic decisions notwithstanding, however, this is a very strong production made all the more impressive by the fact that the actor and director Stephen Darcy are still both very early in their careers. In all its essentials it acquits itself well as a sensitive portrait of a difficult character.

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The Blurb

One young man and a three-day alcohol-fuelled rampage around Dublin.

Hilarious, shocking and poignant in equal measure, Rum and Vodka is the story of an ordinary young man on a path of self-destruction and his unorthodox quest for redemption.

Irish playwright Conor McPherson described Rum and Vodka as the play where he found his voice. Written when he was only 21, this early work sparkles with the humour, energy and brutal honesty that presages his remarkable subsequent success (three-time Olivier Award nominee for Best New Play and winner in 1999 for The Weir and winner of New York Drama Critics Circle Award 2014 for The Night Alive).

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