This cleverly written play and its ardent actors do well to compete against the raucous noise from the football crowd in the pub below, the fierce beat of the music, and the fact that their audience is quite undersized. It is well directed and, predominantly, clearly communicated. The overriding problem however, is the Irish accents. Some are fine, if not quite convincing; others are far less distinguishable.

It is September, 1940, when we meet Paddy (Richard Sails), Michael (Daniel McClelland) and Dermot (Matt Lanigan), who, collectively, could be described as an Irish ‘Dad’s Army’. The last character we meet is ‘The Man’ (Wayne Allsop) who is found washed up on shore - friend? Foe? Spy? We are first greeted by Paddy and Michael, who, to use another television comparison, appear to have a bit of a ‘Geraldine Granger - Alice Tinker’ relationship; (Michael is an apparent simpleton, and Paddy is the older, wiser and more authoritative figure). With such a wee congregation, it is very hard to kick-start the audience reactions to the comedic moments. I believe audiences feel safety in numbers. The fewer audience members there are, the harder it is for one person to laugh without inhibition. The cast do achieve their first ripple of chuckles eventually though, helped by McClelland’s high-energy and confident performance.

The subject matter of the play allows for quite a few serious passages, which, because the acting is of an agreeable standard overall, are relatively successful, and definitely the more appealing and gripping moments in this production. The comedy is less successful because of the accents. Irish humour is almost a style of its own. It has clear characteristics and can be extremely funny when spoken by a true Irish comedian. As a couple of the accents in this production are not strong enough, the ‘Irishness’ seems less ingrained in the actors, and the humour, therefore, not as honest or genuine. The accents are almost a hindrance. Had this production had clearer accents, the piece would have had far greater impact. With more confidence in their accents the cast would be less distracted, making it easier for them to listen and respond to each other, allowing for stronger chemistry.

The performance takes place in a rather intimate space, and, considering this, it is more than fair to say that the production values are excellent. Christian Taylor’s design is elaborate enough to locate us, yet neat enough to combat the lack of space. There is even a constant background sound of rain to strengthen the setting. Lighting and sound are cued perfectly - this does make a difference! James Foster’s direction and blocking is also rather nifty. A fair amount of action takes place between four men in this confined space and it never looks clumsy. It is also very pleasing to see that any violence in the production appears genuinely threatening and dangerous, thanks to fight director, Kenan Ally.

So despite some wavering accents and some difficult conditions, the cast are able to keep us intrigued in this, eventually, surprising play. Foster’s work is clean. We get on board with the characters from the start, our curiosity is maintained, and our interest is piqued by the captivating twist at the end of this seemingly harmless play.

Dev's Army, at Etcetera TheatreDavid Richards reviews Dev's Army at the Etcetera Theatre Club.3