Calder Bookshop and Theatre
Reviewed – 13th October 2019
“Irish Coffee has exciting potential, but this production seems intent on sabotaging itself, instead delivering a thriller that simply doesn’t thrill”
Since 2019 marks 100 years since the birth of beloved Argentinian political figure Eva Perón, it feels as apt a time as any to present work on her legacy. It’s hugely welcomed that a new play aims to shine a different sort of light on Perón than Lloyd Webber’s over-produced megamusical Evita, but unfortunately the execution of Irish Coffee leaves only a bitter taste.
In the wake of Perón’s death and the installation of a military government in place of her husband’s presidency, rumours are flying as to the whereabouts of her body, and journalists Rodolfo (Fergus Foster) and Tomás (Giorgio Galassi) are eager to find answers. In doing so, they become entangled with Colonel Moori-Koenig (Gary Heron) and his (unnamed) wife (Sally Ripley), and thus – in theory – tense political thrills ensue. The play is adapted from the real-life Rodolfo’s short story about his encounter with the Colonel, a meeting which doesn’t take place until about halfway through the script in Irish Coffee, originally written by Eva Halac and translated from Spanish by Daniel Kelly and Luis Gayol (who also takes on directorial duties). It’s no surprise, then, that that meeting makes for the best scene of the play as it had excellent source material to adapt from, although it also unfortunately highlights the lacklustre and meandering nature of the rest of the show.
Most of the scenes are two-handers between either the journalists or the Colonel and his wife, and since the people in those pairs are striving to achieve the same things, there is very little conflict or tension in those interactions, and what is there is forced and jumbled in with heaps of clunky exposition. It was somewhat astounding that Gayol worked as a translator for the text given his lack of reverence for it as a director, as the actors appeared to be following instructions to do as much unnecessary busywork in the overstuffed set as possible. In one instance, the blocking placed two actors at the very front of the intimately-sized stage, completely obscuring what was supposed to be one of the few crucial visual moments happening behind them. It felt as though the company were expecting to be performing on the National Theatre’s Olivier Stage, only to at the last second be moved to the Calder Bookshop and Theatre, which is much cosier (albeit still a delightful venue).
The performances too felt roundly under-rehearsed, as though Gayol had requested ‘shout this line’ or ‘cry here’ and the actors were doing as they were told without having found an emotional justification to do so. Despite this, Galassi and Heron both provide stellar stage presences, and as mentioned, the scenes in which the opposing sides interact begin to provide a crackle of energy -however, that happens far too late in the play and fizzles out far too soon. Irish Coffee has exciting potential, but this production seems intent on sabotaging itself, instead delivering a thriller that simply doesn’t thrill.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Robert Piwko
Calder Bookshop and Theatre until 3rd November
Previously reviewed at this venue: