All Over Town

Dylan Kennedy in thisispopbaby's 'All Over Town'.

Dylan Kennedy in thisispopbaby's 'All Over Town'.

Seán (Dylan Kennedy) is young, gay, and eager to free himself of the baggage of his life in Ireland. A prosaic family goodbye at the airport and he’s on his way to Australia by way of Bangkok: forced to wear the Dublin jersey his mother has given him as a going away present because its made of a breathable fabric.

Seán’s story is related to us through a monologue by Phillip McMahon, darling of the Fringe since winning the Spirit of the Fringe award in 2006, and All Over Town has that small intimacy and energy you might associate with a small, sweaty venue where it might come as an unexpected delight, especially in the right company. But standing alone on the Project Upstairs stage with only a huge curtain of shimmering tinsel and some fluorescent lights for company, Dylan Kennedy has to work very very hard to maintain a connection with the audience.

Director Tom Creed manages to make use of the overly wide space in what is perhaps a schematic way, but nonetheless does so by keeping Kennedy moving. He even gets to run a little, usually to touch the tinsel as he moves and make it glisten to represent lightning or fireworks, but all of the movement merely draws attention to the excessive size of the space for this play.

Kennedy is actually pretty good. He manages to convey some believable emotions, particularly youthful desire, which in this case is fixated upon the imperious Karl with a ‘K’, the fellow traveller with a social conscience he meets in Bangkok but who becomes his boyfriend / pimp when he finally arrives in Australia. In the way of these things, Karl turns out to be a shit, but Seán can’t help loving him. You know the drill.

The problem here is that we do, in fact, know the drill, and all too well. There is nothing fresh or unexpected in this script, even though the details are outlined with great clarity by McMahon’s prose and Kennedy’s performance. Once you scratch the surface of the piece though, you find there’s absolutely nothing underneath. There is no subtext here, no richness, nothing to think about or consider while you listen. Seán’s breathless narrative flows over you and passes you by, leaving no impression on the mind in its wake, and leaving you feeling you’ve heard more than enough and need to know nothing more about this man or his life.

The one interesting aspect of the show is the character’s relationship with the offstage voice of an Eircom reverse charges operator that becomes a kind of disembodied conscience and a link to home. Voiced by Janet Moran except in one important scene where Seán seems to internalise the conversation and speaks for her, Anne is the dispenser of homely aphorisms and motherly affection that Seán doesn’t really crave from his actual family but which he desires somewhere in his heart. When he speaks with her, Kennedy stands in a spotlight like a Saint in communion with God, and these brief scenes break the monotony of the monologue format. At one point Anne says to Seán that she understands what is happening with him even if he doesn’t tell her directly because the spaces between what he says give him away. The problem is we don’t really get those spaces, because everything is spelled out and delivered through relentless verbalisation. How much more interesting might this show have been if it were filled with such spaces, perhaps hearing this story from Anne’s point of view - a collision of disembodied voices never quite spelling out, but both understanding? Ah, now there we’d have some subtext, and maybe just a little head-space for ourselves.

Dr. Harvey O'Brien lectures in Film Studies in University College Dublin and reviews theatre for

  • Review
  • Theatre

All Over Town by Phillip McMahon

22 - 27 June, 2009

Produced by Calipo Theatre Company and thisispopbaby
In Project Arts Centre, as part of Queer Notions

Directed by Tom Creed

Design: Ciarán O’Melia

Lighting: Paul Keogan

With: Dylan Kennedy, Janet Moran (voice)