It's strange how many shows change after the interval. Some seem to get into their stride once the punters return from slaking their thirst and emptying their bladders, others seem to slide into a decline like fading flowers, or Wordsworth's sister. 'A Night In November' certainly is such a play with two distinctly different halves. Even so, it's hardly a fun-packed experience.
'A Night In November' is a one-man show starring stand-up comedian and television presenter Patrick Kielty whose Northern Ireland roots are perfectly suited to this tale of football fever set against the backdrop of political and religious prejudices, and the daily horrors of the Northern Ireland 'troubles'.
Kielty plays Kenneth McCallister, a thirtysomething dole clerk who's been working in the same job for more than 15 years. He's depressed by his job, unexcited by his marriage, and his liberal views about protestants and catholics doesn't fit with the norm of murderously angry prejudice that he experiences every day. Even the triumph of being elected as a member of the local golf club isn't quite sufficient to fix the routine blues. But Kenneth's life changes when Ireland's football team head off to the World Cup in the USA, and Kenneth decides to follow them.
Billed as a comedy, there are very few jokes to be had in the first half at all. And those that put in an appearance aren't very funny - more the kind of humour which struggles to stretch your reluctant lips to form the merest hint of a smile. Half way through the first half, two ladies felt obliged to replenish their supply of alcohol, but didn't stop for my order. However they did have the good manners to return, even if it wasn't the quietest entrance in theatrical history.
Things pick up a bit in the second half, when the humour struggles to bloom as the field of play switches to the USA and the World Cup. Costume changes - though not terribly inventive - at last engaged the audiences giggle gear, though I suspect by that stage they were pretty desperate to start enjoying themselves.
One-man (or one-woman) shows are tough to do. The most important thing is to have a first rate script, and this isn't it. It is a well-structured script, and there's the opportunity for considerably more humour if only there were more jokes. It's more akin to those tired TV sitcoms that fill the dreary gaps in the TV schedules between films and the soaps. The show played in Belfast over the summer, and I can see it doing better there. First, Kielty's characterisations of his fictional wife, relatives, clients etc would probably be recognised more readily and mean more to a Belfast audience. And second, the Belfast audience would probably understand more about the political background too.
With Kielty's highly successful career in stand-up comedy, I'd be amazed if he was satisfied with the audience's response in the first half of this show. It wasn't that he or the audience were in poor form, it was simply the fact that the script doesn't give him the lines to get the laughs, however good he might be at working an audience. Moreover, he appeared genuinely surprised by the standing ovation at the end which was ludicrously odd given what the audience had witnessed, especially in the first half. I was astonished myself, because the play never got near to being hilarious, and I think one of Kielty's stand-up shows would be infinitely more enjoyable and entertaining for both the audience and the performer.
What the popular press had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD "In the course of the evening he moves from confidence to absolutely revelling in his work." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Patrick Kielty's lightweight performance does not lift Kenneth above the very ordinary man Jones has written." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "An evening of near-intolerable smugness." DOMINIC MAXWELL for THE TIMES says, "Ian McElhinney’s production is pacy."