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You Belong to Me: Rory Nolan’s impressive writing debut straddles high comedy and painful human drama

Theatre: Lynne Parker’s adept direction balances the verbal sparring and snappy lines with a sense of wasted lives and lost hopes

You Belong to Me

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

“Wall!” The word features throughout You Belong to Me, yelled, hissed or thrown away in passing. It is, variously, a warning, a statement of fact, an insult, an exclamation, a barrier, a reminder of a marriage’s dysfunction and of the rules of its daily life. “Wall, fathead.”

Clara Simpson is Patty, Liam Carney her husband, Pato, a couple coming up to “40 fecking years” of a marriage that has disintegrated into bitter, vicious antagonism. They still share a house, each unable and unwilling to leave it, and have divided it down the middle as dictated by a court order.

Unable to afford to build an actual wall, this wall is virtual, denoted by a thick, crude yellow line painted on the kitchen floor, through the table and bisecting the back door. This divides the room into his-and-hers spaces in Alan Farquharson’s tatty, double-kitchened set, complete with grubby cooker. When either looks to encroach, or communicate, “wall!” is invoked. “Are you blind?” “I can’t see you through the wall.”

Rory Nolan’s writing debut weaponises the hatred and venom of tragic unhappiness for laughs. The superb actor, feted for performances from Ross O’Carroll-Kelly productions to Richard III, has written an impressive play straddling high comedy, both physical and verbal, and painful human drama, with touches of melodrama and the supernatural thrown in. The Once Off-Smock Alley production, in association with Rough Magic, is also an old fashioned anti-romantic comedy with structured plot, four actors and much domestic interaction.


You’d be tempted to describe this as War of the Roses meets kitchen-sink drama, but it’s not, strictly speaking, kitchen-sink drama. The couple irritate, goad, ignore, speak about each other in the third person, and bicker about subjects ranging from stealing each other’s used tea bags to which of them killed his mother.

Kwaku Fortune plays Garry, a handyman caught between the warring parties, and Kyle Hixon is Cliff, a smooth legal executive and amateur ballroom dancer. A bequest and an upcoming dance competition are the plot interventions. Dance is an evocation of their shared past and her future hopes, but also an opportunity for fun, from Patty’s solo tango and her twirl with Cliff to Pato’s insistence that “Dancing is riding standing up”.

Lynne Parker’s adept direction of the strong ensemble through sometimes slightly tenuous plot twists manages to balance the comedy business, verbal sparring and snappy lines with a sense of wasted lives, lost hopes and bitterness beneath the surface.

Ultimately the script and the tone are true to this bleak brutality. But along the way there are multiple laugh-out-loud moments, sharply comic lines and admirably daft physicality, making it an entertaining, enjoyable Christmas cocktail.

You Belong to Me is at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, until Thursday, December 21st

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times