Heaven - Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Traverse Theatre – Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Fishamble’s production of Eugene O’Briens ‘Heaven’ is a quiet and genuine triumph playing at Traverse Theatre for Edinburgh Fringe. ‘Heaven’ is a contemporary Irish play about two fifty somethings who we quickly grow to care for. These characters are far from the fifty something washed-up stereotypes often served up in drama. These are two adults who have shared a life, a child and all that comes with it. But they haven’t ever shared their entire selves.
We meet Mairead and husband Mal over a weekend in County Offaly in the Irish midlands attending a family wedding. Mairead is a spirited social worker, mother of the now grown and semi-estranged daughter. She returns to her childhood haunts. She’s keen to see who’s about. Mairead expresses the soulless nature of life and ends up in the local pub and into the arms of her first love. Mal, the husband, a teacher, well he’s had some recent heart surgery and doesn’t drink anymore and is fine staying in the accommodation. He’s usually early to bed but tonight he sits awake and admits to himself that he’s always known he is attracted to men but that “wouldn’t suit the way I wanted to live”.
Both characters worry they have led lives of less than full intensity, the sensible decisions of adulthood forcing them, they fear, to deny their true selves.
“Heaven” is exquisitely written, funny and bittersweet. The play’s form is the familiar. Two alternating monologues in which each character gives a fuller picture of the other. The cast of characters, locales and feelings are vividly expressed. Mairead’s description of the fallen prosperity of a town is achingly familiar – we don’t have to be Irish to recognise what she’s seeing: “I mean the Dublin roadside, you have the three-headed monster – Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl – but there is some local business too – Tommy’s tyre firm, Moran’s Petrol station, Glennan’s butchers. Then up onto the square. That’s where the rot sets in. Fuck all around it really.” As Mal jolts from his waking dream the text builds to a much-required crescendo, an explosion from decades of repression burst forth. It is hilarious, heart-breaking and feels incredibly truthful.
Two very special actors – Janet Moran and Andrew Bennet – deliver skilful performances with clarity and emotion. Like a lot of Irish plays the amount of language is challenging and, in this production, (directed by Jim Culleton) it flows like a babbling brook. The setting (Designer Zia Bergin-Holly) in this production is a kind of amalgam of street corner, inner pub, and neutral playing space. To my taste it might be stronger to find a metaphor to bind these monologues – something more liminal and abstract. The play is direct address, so the question is where exactly are we as the story unfolds? The play ends with delicious ambiguity. I would have liked a moment to savour where we have arrived.
The play’s emphasis on identity and the possibility that it is a quest that never ends is powerful. Great writing, brilliant performances – this is a must see!