Danny and Chantelle (Still Here)

Read Bear Productions presents 'Danny and Chantelle (Still Here)' by Phillip McMahon. Photo: Eoghan Barry

Read Bear Productions presents 'Danny and Chantelle (Still Here)' by Phillip McMahon. Photo: Eoghan Barry

A lot can change in six years. Booming businesses can run aground. Economies can crash and burn. National moods can switch from ebullience to despair. A lot has changed, one assumes, for playwright Phillip McMahon since his first play Danny and Chantelle (Still Here) was produced in 2006. McMahon has gone from writing plays for the Fringe to creating big-budget musicals for the National Theatre. It is impossible not to view the latest production of Danny and Chantelle, which is timed to harness the buzz around McMahon’s Alice in Funderland [currently running at the Abbey Theatre], in the light of the success McMahon has enjoyed and the incredible changes that have happened to the city where the play is set.

For all of its swearing, drink-imbibing and drug-taking, Danny and Chantelle is seeped in the innocence of a euphoric moment in time. Danny (Stephen Jones) and Chantelle (Eva Jane Gaffney), ambiguously platonic best friends, set out from their Ballymun flats for a night out in the Dublin city centre. Along the way, pints are drunk, pills are popped and friendships are tested. That the characters never encounter any truly dark vistas provides another reminder of the false invincibility of the Celtic Tiger years. While McMahon’s celebration of hedonism still feels as convincing as it would have in 2006, his text now unwittingly provides a road-map of the present financial ruin, as many of the venues the characters frequent or name-check – Traffic, the Cornerstone and The Pod, where the play was originally produced – have all gone out of business since.

Not that the characters in this play would be bothered, such is their single-minded commitment to cavorting. Jones and Gaffney ably embody the title duo as well as the various members of their freewheeling ensemble, switching characters and genders at will. McMahon’s rollicking script, with its many nods to Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie is full of hilarious blue humour, incessant Dublin references and beautiful poetic flourishes. (For instance, an Ecstasy-addled Chantelle experiences a “reverse blink” after being stunned from a trancelike state by the sight of her friend Steo, previously considered to be heterosexual, snogging a guy on the dancefloor.) Self-discovery is an obstacle McMahon’s characters struggle to avoid in their inebriated condition, and while events nearly force both Chantelle to acknowledge her romantic feelings for Danny and Danny to confront his own homosexuality, one feels any insight the characters gleam amid the debauchery will be washed away by a particularly potent hangover. This is just one night in their lives.

Director Tracy Martin does a stellar job in animating the frenetic proceedings, and effectively utilises the small dancefloor of Rí Ra, with all of its ghosts of previous nights out, as a stage. Bar a memorable blast of Donna Summer as Danny and Chantelle come up on Ecstasy, music plays a surprisingly minor role in establishing the rhythm of the night and it is ultimately up to the actors to summon the wild abandon of this particular evening. Despite (or possibly because of) their characters’ disregard of sobriety and decency, Jones and Gaffney are never less than charming as the titular pair in pursuit of pleasure.

One nagging question I couldn’t shake afterwards regarded the parenthetical clause at the end of the play’s title. Six years on, would Danny and Chantelle still be here, sweetly re-uniting in the early hours of Sunday morning, as the sun rises on the Liffey, sipping tea? Would they have emigrated? Or worse? McMahon’s Dublin is a city free of menace, and considering his title character in Alice in Funderland is a Cork woman who travels through the looking glass during a hen night in the capital to encounter the city’s underworld, it is perhaps again worth commenting just how quickly things can change.

Donald Mahoney

See also: 'It's time to walk the wire', Phillip McMahon's production diary on Alice in Funderland and 'A vocation and an addiction', an interview with Phillip McMahon.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Danny and Chantelle (Still Here) by Phillip McMahon

17 – 28 April, 2012

Produced by Red Bear Productions
In The Globe/Rí Rá

Directed by Tracy Martin

With: Stephen Jones and Eva Jane Gaffney