Come On Home review at Abbey Theatre, Dublin – ‘edgy, questioning, unflinching’

Declan Conlon, Ian Lloyd Anderson and Billy Carter in Come On Home at the Abbey Theatre. Photo: Patrick Redmond
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There’s nothing like a family funeral for clearing the air and muddying the waters.  In Phillip McMahon’s unflinching, darkly humorous play, three brothers gather for the first time in many years on the occasion of their mother’s wake. Nerves jangle in time to Conor Mitchell’s edgy score and under Rachel O’Riordan’s fearless, disciplined direction, the risk of potentially ruinous conflict crackles from the off.

Softly spoken golden boy Michael (Billy Carter) has long sought refuge from his late father’s tyranny in the gay underbelly of London; the oldest Brian (Declan Conlon) is a drunk and rabble rouser; the youngest Ray (Ian Lloyd Anderson) has remained living with his widowed mother, struggling to run the barber’s shop in the front room of the house.  Their painful, powerfully played reunion may clear the air of difficult unanswered questions but the muddy waters of their shared past remain rank and stinking.

Colin Richmond’s drab living room set cleverly suggests the unfolding of an old fashioned family drama, but this multi-layered story of faith, love, sexuality and the meaning of “home” is anything but.

The play offers itself as a challenging metaphor for modern-day Ireland, a country where the exposure of sickening, long-hidden secrets and religious hypocrisy has prompted seismic social and political change in gender equality, same-sex marriage and abortion law reform.

Kathy Rose O’Brien and Aislin McGuckin bring intriguing resonance to the complex female roles while, in a slightly over-extended dénouement, Sean O’Callaghan reduces the towering figure of Fr Aidan Cleary to yet another sad, sorry victim of circumstance.

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Edgy, questioning play that encapsulates the social and political landscape of present day Ireland