There’s a one-hour story buried in John O’Donovan’s two and a half hour play Flights; unfortunately, a bloated narrative and mostly archetypal characters rob this Omnibus Theatre production of any meaningful point.
Barry (Colin Campbell), Pa (Rhys Dunlop) and Cusack (Conor Madden) meet in the same location every year, on one specific day – the day their friend Liam died. Now dead for as long as he’s been alive, the three friends dissect the point their lives has reached, and where they go from here.
It looks nice enough – a small set with a few ratty sofas, a darts board and blue tarpaulin on the walls sets the scene of a refuge effectively, given the characters just enough space to move whilst still being trapped. There’s some excellent work on sound design too – rain hitting the roof rises and falls with the scenes, and there’s some lovely subtle underscoring in pivotal scenes, a welcome accompaniment to O’Donovan’s meticulous words.
The playwright’s dialogue is sharp, often witty and – in many instances – brimming with rich poetry, but there’s simply too much of it. This slow burn tests the audience’s patience by never really leading anywhere, swiftly diverting from interesting conversations to leap back to lads’ banter. It’s not badly written, and the Irish idiosyncrasies are expertly drawn, but it’s also not saying anything particularly new – they drink, they take drugs, they reluctantly discuss their personal lives. From the very beginning, the play languishes in the dialogue between these men, showing very little in the way of dramatic stakes. You’ve met them all before; there’s the stuck waster, the reluctant grown-up and the one who looks set to leave, but there’s no real attempt to find any people inside these stock characters.
The performances leave something to be desired too. While individually, all the actors put in competent work, there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between them. The back and forth isn’t spirited enough, the tense moments unconvincing, and besides some well-timed snarky comments, the humour doesn’t have a chance to land. Colin Campbell gets a moment to shine in a strong monologue from Liam’s point of view, on the night he died – a character far clearer and more well-drawn in those fifteen minutes than Campbell’s other character throughout the play.
O’Donovan can write, there’s no question, and he’s proven that with his previous plays. What Flights suffers from is self-indulgence with that writing, asking audiences to listen and forgetting to get them to care.