Evening Train, Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork
As the musical genre morphs into something exciting and unpredictable, thanks to inventive productions such as Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Hadestown, it is clear there is still plenty of room for experimentation within the form. Evening Train takes a safer route, however, not veering far off the tracks of the traditional Irish dramatic milieu.
Based on the acclaimed 2007 album of the same name by Cork singer-songwriter Mick Flannery, it is the story of brothers Frank and Luther, and Grace, the girl caught in between. All three are keen to escape the stultifying atmosphere of the nameless town in which they live, or, more accurately, are trapped. But Luther’s gambling just digs him in deeper, as do Frank’s attempts to clear his brother’s debts.
Grace, meanwhile, just waits for Luther, any agency she has diverted into drowning her sorrows in bottles of gin stolen from her ruthless bar-owner father, Ray. She is not the only one using drink as a crutch — as Frank (Ger Kelly) who works for Ray in the local bar, observes, “It’s nothing new to be drunk in this town”.
Flannery’s beautifully-crafted songs are skilfully woven into the play by playwright Ursula Rani Sarma and the man himself is never far from the action, playing piano and guitar as part of the five-piece band for the show, which is on stage for the duration, adding greatly to the atmosphere of the production.
While bickering siblings make for a useful dramatic device, the unrelentingly bitter exchanges between Luther and Frank get a bit repetitive after a while and one longs to see some more light and shade in their relationship. Frank’s dutiful stoicism is well-portrayed and he demonstrates his affection by constantly bailing his brother out, but Luther’s motivation, and character, is somewhat underdeveloped in comparison.
Kate Stanley Brennan gives her all in the role of Grace who at one point says she has been putting up with Luther for ten years — at that stage, it is hard to know whether to admire her staying power or despair of it.
John McCarthy, who was so impressive in last year’s Everyman production of The Lonesome West, gives another standout performance, providing some expertly-timed light relief in the role of arch-sleeveen Paulie.
There are some great lines, especially from the brother’s mother Kathleen, played by Deirdre Donnelly, who veers from addled confusion to lucidity, and warns Grace how “beauty can be a curse, depends on who’s looking”.
Kelly anchors the production in a performance full of heart, and his gorgeously pure tenor voice is utilised to moving effect in the final number ‘How High’, ending the production on a rousing note, echoed by a rapturous standing ovation.