In The Window: Virtuosic performance of death-wish comedy

There is something of Charles Dickens in this adroit one woman show, written and performed by Belfast comedian Nuala McKeever. It is funny, it is sentimental, it has excellent plot twists and turns; it offers all the wealth of a well-told story on stage delivered by a charming performer.

It is impossible not to warm to McKeever’s winning stage presence. She plays Margaret Moore, a lonely 49-year-old woman who has worked all her life as a librarian and latterly gave up her job to care for ailing parents. She now sits in the family home, into which she has just moved following their deaths, and laments the life that has somehow passed her by. The loss of her parents, compounded by the death of her best friend Rosemary, have left her with a life full of emptiness.

Unlikely though it may seem, given how chatty and funny she is, Margaret is determined to kill herself. To this end she has a bottle of wine and a jar of sleeping tablets. Frank Sinatra, played on old vinyl records, provides a backdrop to her despair.

Margaret’s journey to the afterlife is interrupted by what at first appears to be a burglar. A nosy neighbor also butts in, and a policeman is called. The setting is Northern Ireland, but a brief mention of paramilitaries just glances at that fact. Generally, this is a domestic drama that could be set anywhere.

McKeever displays a virtuosic acting skill, jumping in and out of cameos, including the neighbour Kate, a policeman Mac, and the putative burglar Chris, as well as Margaret herself. Her comic timing is perfect. The intimate space of the Viking allows for terrific bond between this kind of open performer and audience.

Andrea Montgomery’s direction has many strengths: the performance is well guided and paced; the story is cunningly unwrapped with great discipline over eighty minutes. After a decent late breaking twist, that nicely toys with the audience’s expectations, the show finishes with a neat denouement.

So, this makes for a fun night out in the presence of a brilliant comic performer. But given the show’s many strengths, it’s a pity it doesn’t just engage at a deeper level. There is a layer of trauma that gets tossed aside by the humour. Lurching from suicide to farce is a terrific dramatic move, but it would be stronger if the sadness was pumped up more, and Margaret retained at least the ghost of her grief as the craziness ensues. As Samuel Beckett said, nothing is funnier than unhappiness.

Also this week: The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill: A small business gets anarcho-comedy treatment

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