Disclaimer: St Nicholas is NOT a sweet old Christmas tale – best leave the kids at home for this one. Not because they wouldn’t enjoy it – they may well have a penchant for the darkest of humour. They might, too, respond well to the murky underworld of vampires and the hazy realm of theatre critics. They may even enjoy how Christian Patterson makes the word ‘c***’ sound like music. Ah, to hell with it, bring the kids.
For they may witness the humanity portrayed when presented with a story of the inhuman; the hope within the hopeless. Irish born, McPherson, known for his skill with the monologue form, wrote this play when he was just 26 in the same year he wrote the much celebrated The Weir, almost twenty years ago. The brilliance of this particular play has been a little overshadowed by the success of The Weir but it should not be overlooked and it pleases me no end to see it given due dividends under Titas Halder’s direction.
The play fits right in with the Insomnia theme The Other Room have taken for their second season. ‘The Man’ (he is given no name) tells the story of his life as a theatre critic, telling the audience of the soulless job he sees it to be. He expresses how his everyday life is so mundane; something he contemplates as he watches his wife doing the gardening. He explains, with disgust, that he feels nothing for her as she digs the trowel in and then pushes her glasses up from her nose with her wrist. He bemoans the lack of creativity in his life and how he yearns to write his emotions on the page like the writers he reviews. By his own admission, he is jealous.
It all comes to a head after reviewing a ‘mediocre’ play in which starred an actress, Helen, he becomes hopelessly enchanted with – he still gives the play a bad review mind. He follows the troupe to London, where after a failed attempt to win over Helen he meets a vampire, William, and his life becomes embroiled in the recruitment of fresh meat for the vampires – he finally has the power he so craved before events start to descend.
Christian Patterson (The Man), fresh from winning Best Actor at the Wales Theatre Awards, wastes no time in providing another astonishing performance. As a qualified Irish man I can firmly say his Irish accent travels the island a little here and there – such is the way, however, when ‘culties’ (from the countryside) like me move to Dublin for their careers and adopt ‘that voice’ very quickly – it helps us get ahead, I promise.
This character was familiar to me but it was more than the dulcet tones that hit home. It was the way Patterson spoke to me, as an individual; as if we were the only two in the room. He made eye contact and held my gaze – a staring competition that he won once he got too close to robbing my soul. And I wasn’t the only one– I suspect in that wonderfully titchy space of The Other Room most of the audience had their souls interfered with.
The director (Titas Halder) has cleverly created a murky composition that works as a metaphor for the whole dissoluteness of ‘The Man’ life. Along with Patterson’s performance, Halder is aided by a design (Amy Jane Cook) that is reminiscent of a vomit and excrement stained prison cell where I imagine theatre critics go to die. The lighting (Katy Morison) and sound (Sam Jones) too, work with the rhythms of McPherson’s text beautifully, subtly striking a tone that will ring in your ears for some time.
This production was as haunting as it was funny. An enthralling evening you’d be sorry to miss.
Read TOR’s Dan Jones:
All images: Christian Patterson in St Nicholas
Photography: Aenne Pallasca