By David Hennessy
Áine Ryan’s Paddy Goes to Petra begins with actor Brendan Dunlea asking the audience the question, if they have ever heard of the Jordanian city.
You might even be tempted to answer him. This is one of the strengths of the play, that you do feel like Brendan is talking to you throughout the whole play.
The Cork actor Brendan Dunlea may be familiar from his work in Ros na Rún or his part in Irish language hit An Cailín Ciúin.
An award-winning London-based Tipperary playwright, based in London, Áine was bringing her work here for the first time with the recent run at the Brockley Jack.
Paddy Goes to Petra tells the story of a middle-aged farmer who travels to the ancient city of Petra. Although his lust for life has long vanished, the trip encourages him to feel a fresh wonder for the world, develop new friendships and even begin a new relationship with himself.
Paddy is so taken with the city and its mystery that he gets completely lost in it, loving his new life sleeping in a cave with his new friends and neglecting his wife.
He decides he could be a tour operator and at one stage he displays his routine for the audience. It seems he has found a new passion in life.
But behind the sense of adventure and jokes and everything else, there is a pain deep within Paddy and it never goes away.
It is the very reason he and his wife decided to travel abroad over the Christmas in the first place, escaping the holiday season that can be so painful.
Paddy and Eilish lost their son Cillian to suicide years earlier and are both dealing with it in their own ways. Therapy has helped somewhat, as has travel but neither has given them the answer for why their kind and caring son took his own life.
Eilish seems to be distracting herself with sex, trying a different man in every city their travels take them to. It is not behind Paddy’s back either. In fact, he tells a hilarious story of how one encounter with two men took place while he was watching the hurling in the next room.
This is another of the play’s strengths as Paddy takes on the mannerisms of his wife Eilish, his Jordanian friend Farage and all the other characters that come into the story all clear and distinct from each other. It is impressive that a play with one man in it can take in so many different voices and through so many different countries.
However, at least while Eilish is filling the void with something, Paddy has had no such luck up until his Middle Eastern adventure even admitting that he thought going there he might find a good place to ‘slip’. In other words, like his son before him, Paddy could no longer go on either.
Paddy Goes to Petra connects in the best way. You can’t help but be affected by Paddy’s grief and disillusionment.
At the same time, it is far from all doom and gloom with many laughs along the way.
A good story well told, it is an excellent piece of theatre and at 70 minutes not overwritten.