“Nobody’s coming to pick you up off that floor. If you lie down then that’s where you’ll stay ‘cause we’ll all be gone soon”
Following Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder as the latest winner of the Papatango New Writing contest, Fiona Doyle’s Coolatully proves that a one word title will get you far in this contest, the victorious play receiving a full production here at the Finborough. And perhaps a little surprisingly for a new writing prize, it emerges as a rather conventional piece of Irish drama, its plotting rather schematically spelled out for all to see and little theatrical innovation obviously at work.
Which is a little disappointing as many of the ingredients for a success are present. Doyle’s gift for contemporary characterisation is acutely observed as 27 year old Killian, a former golden child due to his hurling prowess – languishes in the SW Ireland village of Coolatully which has been decimated by the economic crisis. Its young folk (including Eilish, his love interest) are leaving in droves for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, anywhere with jobs and/or good weather and those left behind are struggling, trapped by duties towards parents (Killian) or driven to petty crime (Paudie).
Their motives are painfully persuasive, their dialogue believably bantered, the context readily recognisable. And in David Mercatali’s production, it all hangs together beautifully with Max Davey’s intimate thrust design offering no respite from the claustrophobia of the daily grind here. It’s perfectly cast too: Kerr Logan’s Killian a model of frustrated paralysis, the ties to the old country, his country, not so easily sundered; Yolanda Kettle brings an almost harsh level of determination to the spiky Eilish; and Charlie de Bromhead’s Paudie crackles with stubbly ne’er-do-well charisma.
It just feels like they deserve a more developed play. The historical parallels of previous mass emigration are unexplored despite a soundtrack that nods to times past, ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and the like. The older character of Jimmy ends up more of a device, despite Eric Richard’s best efforts, on which to hang the crucial plot development, but even then the character remains somewhat flat, a curious replacement for Killian’s mother who often hear upstairs but never see. Altogether, it feels that Coolatully sees a writer with much promise to be nurtured rather than an outright success like, say, Foxfinder.