THE THEME of the returned emigrant has driven landmark Irish plays such as John B Keane’s The Field, Brian Friel’s The Loves Of Cass Maguire, and Tom Murphy’s Conversations On A Homecoming.
Galway theatre company Fregoli gave the subject a vibrant modern spin in 2015 with one of its most successful productions, Pleasure Ground. Last week, at the Mick Lally Theatre, the company revisited the theme with its revival of Robert Higgins’ debut, The Streets Are Ours, which Fregoli first staged at this year’s Galway Theatre Festival.
Set in Higgins’ native Granard, The Streets Are Ours portrays the fraught reunion of four friends, all in their twenties. Casper (Oisin Robbins ), Dean (Jarlath Tivnan ), and Charlene (Maria Dillon ) have remained at home while Liam (Jerry Fitzgerald ) has just returned from three years in Australia during which he lost contact with his former companions.
For all four, their lives have either stalled or settled into familiar grooves. Dean is running the family farm following his father’s death, Casper works at Tescos and does petty drug dealing on the side, Charlene has become engaged to a local beau, while Liam’s stint abroad has stagnated, making him a hangdog returnee. The three lads meet in Tesco's car park to share drinks, smokes, and reminiscences but the warm glow of reunion is undercut by Dean’s seething resentment at Liam over his cutting off of contact while abroad.
'If The Streets Are Ours has shortcomings it also carries enough suggestion that playwright Robert Higgins has more to offer'
When Dean gives Casper a lift to conduct a drug deal, it gives Liam a chance for one-on-one time with newly-arrived Charlene, his ex-girlfriend whom he had also abandoned when emigrating. Their scene had a palpable tension as Charlene reproaches him for his fecklessness and Liam ruefully realised his hopes of rekindling romance with her were futile even though one could see there was real affection still between them. When the others return, Dean finally gives vent to his simmering anger and openly reproaches Liam for his lack of contact and, with things out in the open, amends are made and friendship re-established.
The Streets Are Ours can be filed under ‘promising debut’ rather than a fully successful one. Higgins shows insight into his characters’ situations and personalities but at times the play lacks depth and its sudden shift into verse monologues at the end felt awkward. There were also some anomalies; while the three lads share joints and cans of beer, Dean also sips from his own personal naggin of whiskey yet neither of his mates chides him for not offering them any. When Dean finally offers a swig to Liam after they have mended their bridges the gesture is diminished because the naggin has been theatrically unimportant up to then.
While the set was sparse to the point of being rudimentary, a couple of stools on a bare stage, director Maria Tivnan keeps the action moving briskly and gets good performances from her four actors. If The Streets Are Ours has shortcomings it also carries enough suggestion that Robert Higgins has more to offer.
One final quibble; I don’t know if this is a comment on the youth of Ireland generally, but the lads in the play merely discarded their empties on the ground rather than binning them or taking them away. Oh for a bit of civic-mindedness in these troubled times!