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Owen O'Neill: Struck By Lightning
Published on Wednesday, 15 August 2012
2

2 stars

The Assembly Rooms (venue website)
Comedy
1, 3-12, 14-26 Aug, 7:30pm-8:30pm; 2 Aug, 2:20pm-3:20pm
Reviewed by Martin Lennon

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

A Fringe veteran of the last 20 years, Owen O'Neill knows his way around Edinburgh. He is a man of many talents, which include theatre and stand-up comedy, poetry and acting. But could he transfer these multiple talents to his show Struck By Lightning, and make it a success? The answer, in short, is ‘no’. While there are moments of O'Neill at his comic best, the show is largely disjointed and at times even irritating. For all his good intentions, it just didn't have the structure or charm to win over the audience.

First things first: this is not stand-up as advertised. It is comedy theatre, looking at the life of O'Neill and how being struck by lightning affected him. The show starts with O'Neill aged 13 years, in a nun's orchard, stealing apples, when the thunderbolt suddenly descends. His struggles to come to terms with this affliction dominate the first half the show, but midway through, O'Neill's adventures take him to London as a free-spirited 25-year old – and eventually his story finishes in the present day. It is a one-man show and O'Neill plays all the different characters that inhabit it, from his own family members to London coppers, assisted by a minimalist set with just a bed, table and a phone.

The main positive from the show was O'Neill’s acting, which saved the show from being a complete failure. It’s a high-energy, clownish and, at times, subtle performance. Within this world O’Neill is able to paint a very vivid picture of small-town Ireland and its colourful characters, the best example being a story about his uncle who at one point claims not to like burning rubber (“that's why I don't use condoms").

However, these scarce positive attributes are unfortunately not backed up by a strong story. The accident itself is dwelled upon for too long, and many of the situations that flow from it become very far-fetched (like a family of 8 all fitting into one small car so that none of them will get struck by lightning). I also felt that a major flaw in his material was that it is too parochial to reach to a non-Irish audience, and found references to subjects like the IRA and Catholic priests slightly outdated. Most frustrating of all is the role he plays for most of the piece, his teenage self – which quickly becomes annoying to watch, overdone with his gurning and over-elaborate with his jokes. 

For a one-man show, you have to give O’Neill credit for the work he has done. However, there is a lack of focus in the script and in his comedy. The show will certainly connect with an audience in Ireland... but I’m not so sure of the reaction over here in Edinburgh.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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