By David Hennessy
Coolatully, the new play from Kerry playwright Fiona Doyle and winner of the Papatango New Writing prize, addresses the topic of a nation losing a generation to emigration and suicide, with the result being a poignant and engaging piece of work with more moments of humour than one might expect from its subject matter.
Performances are top notch and with the production resting squarely on the shoulders of Kerr Logan, known from Game of Thrones and London Irish, who is in every scene, the young actor doesn’t disappoint, taking on the lead role of Kilian with a very relatable and mature portrayal.
It is obvious from the start how much pressure Kilian is under. He was once a star on the hurling field but now the village can barely get a team together. The play begins with Kilian at his brother’s grave, talking of a friend who is making the move to New Zealand, another one lost to the village. Kilian’s girlfriend Eilish wants him to go to Australia with her but he says he can’t leave his mother to look after the family pub alone.
When Kilian’s friend Paudie is released from prison for a desperate act of theft, it is not long before he starts talking of himself and Kilian making the move down under. Jimmy, an old man that Kilian helps out, also encourages Kilian to get out of Coolatully.
The theme of time is prevalent with references to when Kilian was a hurling champion, when Jimmy was a strong man and also when times were good and the banks were handing out loans to people who couldn’t afford them.
The frequent references to the local post office closing and a robbery victim who cycled “eight hours in the dead’ve night”, which actually happened in Clare this year, create a feeling of lost innocence that is almost palpable.
Coolatully is reminiscent of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come for how it deals with the theme and dilemma of leaving home. When Jimmy offers Kilian the money needed to start afresh in Australia, Kilian dares to think it could really happen but Paudie’s visa is still a concern. Pushed too far, Kilian commits a desperate act that he will struggle to live with.
With his brother’s anniversary approaching, we can see Kilian is still struggling with his grief. This is underneath him trying to do right by all (mother, Jimmy, Paudie, Eilish, his brother) which is a pressure that eventually breaks him.
Later in the play Paudie reveals he never believed he would make it to Australia with his criminal record. He says ‘I lie to myself because it keeps me sane’. Perhaps Kilian has been doing this too.
There is quality all through the supporting cast with the back and forth between Charlie de Bromhead’s Paudie and Kilian bringing much of the play’s comedy and Yolanda Kettle’s Eilish presenting Kilian’s way out if he wants to take it. Eric Richard, known for his many years on The Bill, is funny and endearing as Jimmy which makes the play’s later events even sadder to watch.