“We in Ireland are f*cked, so they tell us”
The Gift of Lightning is young Irish playwright David Gilna’s UK debut, playing at the railway tunnel conversion that is the Waterloo East Theatre. Initially a story of four young Irish adults escaping economic depression by uprooting to Boston, Massachusetts and living a life of drunken hedonism, things take a darker turn when one of them, Sean, is struck by lightning and falls into a coma. As he lies between life and death, his friends unload their deepest secrets and his own sub-conscious wades through his memories and considerable sexual fantasies as he wakes up to see what difference the ‘gift of lightning’ has had on his life.
The construction of the play doesn’t lend itself to this supposed journey of self-discovery. Flitting from work to play and yet more play, Gilna’s writing does little to move beyond the superficial antics of this foursome whether it’s the guys’ attempts to sleep with every girl in Boston or the girls’ exchange of pulling techniques. These are intermittently funny, as the cast of four also play a wide range of funnily-accented supporting characters, broad comic swipes adding to the bawdy sex comedy: there’s little sophistication here but the easy physicality on display and personality channelled into the performances is quite winning.
But when the play aims for something more, something deeper, it falls somewhat short. The timeline works against the message of the play, the grand realisation of the main protagonist tucked away into the final scene rather than being skilfully woven throughout the events we have just witnessed. It doesn’t come as a complete surprise as Gilna suddenly grants Sean, the role he coincidentally plays, a sudden depth of character in the latter moments by clumsily having him quote lines of poetry from Keats and later lines from Tennessee Williams: not only does this work against everything we have come to know Sean as being, it’s not even original.
Indeed the slightness of the text, even in a 50 minute piece, is constantly exposed through the repeated use of dance sequences which soon grow tiresome. Likewise the singing of snatches of pop songs over the coma-bed-side come at the expense of the genuine insight that could have come from considered writing. The threads are there, in among the sex jokes are tantalising glimpses of subjects that would benefit from further investigation, but none of them are exploited. The Gift of Lightning raises a chuckle but dramatically fails to hit the spot once, never mind twice.