@ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 28 Mar 2015 (part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint season)
Unorthodox behaviour and the contradictions of everyday life are at the forefront of Martin McCormick‘s one act play The Day the Pope Emptied Croy. This is evident when Barr (excellently conveyed by the vibrant and animated Keiran Gallacher) enters a church in Croy, sniffing, sucking, and wheezing away on a makeshift bag of glue, and is further supplemented by his incongruous friendship with Ranald, a punk rocker, played by Nathan Byrne.
Set in the early 1980s, the play touches on subjects such as homophobia, family loyalty, and religious naivety. The two boys are ostensibly there to steal a chalice, then abscond to Newcastle together. This sacrilegious plan seems easily achievable, because the Pope is in town, and the house of God is bereft of its normal congregation. However, what they discover behind the curtains is something rather bizarre – a gay Jesus lookalike, symbolically hanging from the cross, in some allegorical statement of intent.
The writer makes excellent use of the aforementioned satirical opportunity, littering the script with absurdist humour, almost always delivered with great composure, perfect comic timing, and innate self-assurance.
The set, although simple, effectively resembles the aisle of a church, and the two main characters weave in and out of each other, justifying the erratic effect the glue sniffing has had on their approach to normal decorum.
The initial offstage noise of the apparent intruder, which is loud and inappropriate, seems to negate the trepidation the two runaways are supposed to be portraying. Having said that, the way they juxtapose pathos and comical nuance is, at times, very refreshing.
The glue sniffing is overdone, and becomes annoying, and the stand-off towards the end is more pantomimed than realistic, failing to deliver the desired effect.
The script is refined and polished, and McCormick’s taut approach to editing helps to excellently round off the narrative, leaving Barr to choose between conscience and loyalty, integrity and conformity. Sadly for Barr, he chooses to stray away from his conscience, and delivers a fatal blow, physically and emotionally.
The Day The Pope Emptied Croy is an elegant, but at times frustrating, three-hander that further justifies the growing popularity of the Play, a Pie, A Pint productions.