St Nicholas. By Conor McPherson. Directed by Shelly Higgs. Streamed live via Vimeo from The Street Theatre. Finished June 7.
At a time of crisis the arts display a resilience that is fired by the imagination. Faced with the isolation and potential impotence inflicted upon the arts by the threat of Covid 19, the resourceful Street Theatre has initiated a live streaming of its production of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's's St Nicholas.
McPherson's protagonist is a confessed hack and cynical Dublin theatre critic, with an inflated sense of self-importance, bolstered by disdain for his fellow human beings and a penchant for incessant imbibing of cheap Scotch.
Beneath his vituperative assault on amateur theatre he harbours a self-loathing and a sense of failure that draw him inexorably deeper into the more sinister and chilling darkness of his disillusionment.
The disgruntled and thoroughly disreputable critic flagrantly heaps scorn upon the victims of his vicious pen.
With the abiding arrogance of a power-obsessed wielder of critical opinion, he proudly confesses to leaving a theatre 10 minutes before the curtain call to carelessly phone in his hastily-written review scribbled on a program.
McPherson's critic is deserving of his fate. His obsession with a beautiful actress, Helen, compels him to leave his family and pursue her to London.
After waking from a drunken stupor he meets William, a modern-day Eastern European vampire, who invites the critic to his house of vampires.
William offers him eternal life in exchange for his services as their pimp, luring young London revellers to their house where they satisfy their blood lust.
With the gift of the Irish, McPherson spins a mighty yarn. His story of a vulnerable and flawed protagonist, seduced by the allure of the vampire's spell is reminiscent of shadowy Gothic tales of a Victorian era.
As director of the original production of St Nicholas, McPherson echoed the advice of Dylan Thomas who, when asked for direction by his actors of Under Milk Wood, replied "Love the words".
In Craig Alexander, director Shelly Higgs has found a performer worthy of mastering McPherson's monolithic monologue. For two hours alone on the stage, Alexander embraces the evocative and atmospheric text, skillfully vocalising the different characters he describes.
It is a powerful and riveting performance that sweeps the viewer compulsively along from the character's abuse of his position as a theatre critic to the Faustian torment of self-realisation.
Director Higgs, a professional photographer, understands the inherent power of the image and with Liam Budge on camera carefully frames the critic's irrevocable fate through close-ups, flashes of light in James Tighe's mood-filled lighting design and the eerie chill and mystery of Imogen Keen's swaying, incandescent light in her production design.
Musician Den Hanrahan accompanies Alexander's performance with a haunting, ominous composition and sound design charting the critic's inescapable decline. With the life blood sucked from him, the critic is left powerless to return to the life he left behind.
What is also inescapable is the awareness that I am watching a live performance on my desktop screen. I become thoroughly engaged by Alexander's intensity and masterful nuance. But, I remain detached nonetheless.
I am not in a theatre watching a live performance. I am not observing the reactions of an audience around me nor immersing myself totally in that willing suspension of disbelief.
That must wait until the theatre can thrive alive again and St Nicholas can play to the full houses that this production certainly deserves.
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