Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 10 February, 2005

Gerald Murphy's Take Me Away first crossed the Irish Sea to be seen in Britain at the Traverse during last year's Edinburgh Fringe. However, on both initial and subsequent viewing it remains rather a so-what experience. Murphy's four-hander also demonstrates the extent to which Irish everyday consciousness both has and hasn't developed. This crisis-of-masculinity piece would have been inconceivable a generation ago, yet it's clear that, to the characters themselves, any sense of a big social or psychological picture remains worlds away.

A Dublin father and three sons gather together to visit their mother. As onion-layers of lies and pretence peel away, it transpires that she is not in fact ill in hospital, but has simply grown fed up with a dull marriage to a selfish, brutal lump and moved out; he, in turn, is trying desperately to play the "let's be a family again" card and also to buy her back with the shabby prospect of a second-hand caravan at the seaside. However, it turns out that two of his sons are likewise too slow to keep up with their respective self-confident women: feckless Andy has been deserted by his wife and son, unable to provide for them materially, while young Kev was seduced into dropping out of college before finding himself too limp for the bohemian squatters' life. Eldest son Bren, meanwhile, may be the only one with a decent home and the courage to stand up to his rumbling father from the first, but he confines his sexual life to a computer screen and a roll of toilet paper.

Lynne Parker's production is as direct as Murphy's writing, and in some respects it's good to see the flipside of the woman-discovering-herself trope. However, there's little sense that the offstage women in the play are people rather than just a set of occasional, convenient lines and actions reported in order to get the menfolk into the position that Murphy actually wants to write about. He captures the paralysis of city life chronicled by James Joyce in his Dubliners short stories a century ago. But Joyce also conveyed a sense of epiphany, of everyday revelation; with Murphy's piece, as I say, the enduring sense is "so what?"

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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