My Real Life was conceived by Eoin Colfer originally as a short play for the WexFour series at Wexford Arts Centre two years ago: the idea sprung from a conversation in a pub, a guy in a chair, staring into the abyss, baring his soul.
At Wexford, in the company of plays by Billy Roche, John Banville and Colm Toibin, My Real Life adhered to the original brief from director Ben Barnes: eschew complex staging or technical requirements and keep the vignette to 20 minutes.
Colfer, whose writing for the stage began with a Wexford Festival one act for Wexford Drama Group in the Talbot Hotel, was initially stumped, but once he turned the tap there was no stopping the monologue from MS sufferer Noel. Of the four short works, My Real Life was leavened by Colfer’s natural humour and the astute decision to have Noel seemingly record his valediction on his iPhone.
Noel, however, is neither good with technology nor his choice of drugs: the original My Real Life concludes with Noel confronting the side effects of Viagra. ‘Oh Christ. I have a raging horn. Hard as a diamond. They could put me to work in Waterford Glass. What am I going to do with this?’
It would be a mistake to view the mature version of this play in the Theatre Royal (which faces Waterford Glass) as My Real Life revisited: Barnes and Colfer have stripped the engine and created something much longer, more powerful: a genuine theatrical tour-de-force.
It was a brave move, yet it works: the dialogue in the WexFour production is on occasion recycled – reminisces about ‘the Light Mime Society’, the producer in the taxi who hates opera, the confrontation with the yahoos on the Main Street – but the flow of witticisms doesn’t need to be as urgent in a two hour production.
And so Colfer the novelist steps in and does what he does best: he fleshes out Noel, adds a third dimension which time didn’t allow in the WexFour version, colours in his background from garsun to man, and instead of laughing with or at Noel as we did at the Arts Centre, we empathise, because he is seriously ill.
Brilliantly, Colfer and Barnes gradually spiral the narrative arc of Noel’s dialogue into a controlled descent, so that after the interval we are immediately in darker terrain, and those expecting the light denouement at Wexford are in for a surprise.
In conclusion, My Real Life is an original play of substance and emotional heft, a superb piece of writing on the page and direction on the stage which teases out what it means to confront the nadir of your existence.
The marrow is in the performance of Don Wycherley: the props and affects are limited to chiaroscuro, to a chair, a table, several bottles of pills, a glass of water and a tape recorder, but Wycherley needs only a movement of the hand, or a grimace, the shuffling of a foot, to segue Colfer’s exquisitely teased light and shade.
Colfer was in attendance when Wycherley brought his one man show After Sarah Miles to Wexford Arts Centre years before My Real Life, and would have known how Wycherley makes the connection between performer and audience seamless.
This transparency, allied to his stamina and his breathtaking depiction of Noel in the final 20 minutes, ensures that My Real Life is one of the finest new Irish plays in recent times, and a must-see during its current run.