Fred and Alice

Cora Fenton and Ciaran Bermingham in 'Fred and Alice' by John Sheehy. Photo: Jeff Manning

Cora Fenton and Ciaran Bermingham in 'Fred and Alice' by John Sheehy. Photo: Jeff Manning

Waiting for the latest lunchtime offering at Bewleys Café Theatre to begin I idly speculated about Fred and Alice. There was a small clue in the staging: there was a muddled heap of lamps and light fixtures resting on the stage, from the small tasselled lampshade models to full beamers. Did someone in the forthcoming play collect them? Obsessively? Randomly?

Obsession and randomness do feature frequently in this new two hander work from John Sheehy, who also directs, for CallBack Theatre. He skillfully brings us inside the distinctive compulsive worlds of Fred and Alice. Fred is keen on music. Very keen. He can begin an elucidation of music genres and, as he gathers speed through Afro-Caribbean we are confident he could make it all the way to Zulu techno. But, on this occasion, he stops mid-way into the As. The story needs to continue.

We learn piece by piece about the ‘home’, the mental care facility where Alice and Fred were each spending longer and longer periods of time, the place where they met and eventually bonded. But as Alice points out, it was not love at first sight. Fred ignored her at first but then he was ‘stuck’ at the time. Alice understands being ‘stuck’. It is the same as her whirligig where she becomes lost and unreal, like one of those ballerinas on a music box, twirling slowly to tinselly music (a lovely piece of sound design from Cormac Brennock). But her relentless effervescence coaxes him out of himself and Fred reveals his strength, sheltering her when she soars too high. They share secrets and dreams and laughter.

Ciaran Bermingham’s highly attuned inhabiting of Fred is a pleasure to watch; the shy, reticent awkwardness slowly coming into the light revealing humour, passions and thoughtfulness. His adroit dance partner in comic timing and measured acting, Cora Fenton, breathes shades of character into Alice who is on full electric grid much of the time. Her special subject is numbers: permutations, combinations, leapfrogging one other logically, at once. But we sense she is riding too high and will soon spiral down like a tornado in reverse.

Taciturn and loquacious by turn, the two actors keep Sheehy’s fast paced witty writing zipping along, avoiding straying into caricature. We are mostly on the inside with them in their private imaginative worlds, for Fred and Alice make wonderful company for each other and for us.

However, this is a comedy with a serious heart and just like the characters, the audience have to move on and out. We feel the shift in tempo as the chill of independence, reality and responsibility, limitations and all those concepts and words start to rumble in the script and challenge the writer about ways to end the play. It is a small problem, however, in a work that is lively, imaginative and life affirming. Fred and Alice want to step into the bigger world with all its risks and chances. They could play a rock arena, or might simply order pizza.

Seona Mac Réamoinn is a writer and critic.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Fred and Alice by John Sheehy

6 - 23 February, 2013

Produced by CallBack Theatre
In Bewleys Café Theatre

Written and directed by John Sheehy

Sound Design: Cormac Brennock

With: Cora Fenton and Ciaran Bermingham