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Cold Comfort
Published on Thursday, 23 May 2013

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3 stars

The Warren (venue website)
14, 20 May, 7:30pm-8:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

There are some plays I admire much more than I enjoy. Cold Comfort is squarely in that category: there’s impeccable acting, strong production values, and a more-than-competent script. But the concept, I think, has a serious flaw, which drags the whole performance down. A one-man play, Cold Comfort features a confirmed alcoholic holding a vigil beside his father’s coffin – and imagining a conversation with both the deceased dad and other missing members of his family.

Actor Padraig Breathnach portrays drunkenness extremely well, even improvising apparent small mis-steps into elements of plot and character.  His restless, never-ending monologue was exhausting to watch, so I can only imagine what it was like to perform; and there are a few well-judged moments of gross humour.  More than that, Owen McCafferty’s script conveys a compelling sense of how a strong man might be broken by alcohol, and how families can lose any connection with each other.

But I felt it was all too monotone; that it needed a few surprises to break up the rambling.  When you’re not drunk, drunken people are just very boring, and the inherent tragedy of seeing a man reduced to this state wasn’t enough to fend off the growing tedium.  At one point, when Breathnach mournfully observed that “things go round and round in circles”, I felt that I could say the same about the show.

For me, one of the stronger passages started with a calamity: one of the coffin’s handles fell off.  With admirable professionalism, Breathnach turned the blooper into a moment of levity, and for the next few minutes I found I was that little bit more engaged.  Similarly – but, this time, very much intentionally – there are fragments of visceral clarity, when Breathnach steps to the front and directly addresses the audience.  I thought these were successful in breaking up the pace, and I wished playwright McCafferty had used the gambit a little more.

Breathnach’s performance deserves considerable respect, and the later scenes in particular did deliver a sense of lingering tragedy.  But ultimately, Cold Comfort is simply too alienating; there’s just not enough there to find likeable.  I wanted to care about this deeply troubled man, I promise you that I did.  But in the end… I found I simply couldn’t.

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