until 5th October 2018
St Nicholas | Review
The room is dark, chairs are scattered across in a random fashion, carpets lie underfoot muffling the sounds of footsteps and in four corners there are buckets of water. In the centre, a desk and a chair, and sitting on that chair is our nameless man, our narrator through the madness. St Nicholas is a strange story, part vampire yarn, part morality tale, it straddles the line between reality and dreams and brings its audience along for the ride. Over the course of two hours, our narrator tells us his story of how he came to meet the vampires – or did he?
Despite the limited audience numbers (I counted no more than 50 chairs in the room), this is an ambitious production for the Donmar. Monologues typically span one act, they tell an immediate moment in time, they do not go for a meander around the houses, and yet that is exactly what Connor McPherson (best known for Girl From the North Country) does. Our nameless narrator is brought to live by Brendan Coyle in an intimidating turn as the theatre critic gone rogue; at once funny and unnerving, Coyle manages to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire performance, striding around the stage in his oversized coat, seating himself amongst the audience at times, mocking those around him at others. To say that our narrator is an anti-hero is a little bit of an understatement, indeed it’s difficult to even attach the label ‘hero’ to him; a bitter, cynical theatre critic who hurts people for his own pleasure, the audience sits at a knife edge, waiting to see what it is that has brought this man to such a place, sitting in a lonely chair in a room lit by candles.
This is a play guided by atmosphere; and to be frank, if you’re looking for a terrifying vampire horror story where people creep out from corners and use jump scares to make you scream, this is not the play for you. But what Simon Evans has done so wonderfully with St Nicholas is to build the tension to almost unbearable levels (Coyle recounting how he went prowling for a woman drunk must come down as one of the most uncomfortable moments for me) before relaxing as the narrator breaks his stride again. At times, the play is almost a little too clever for itself, the acknowledgement that a paying audience is sitting in these chairs is mentioned in a moment that feels perhaps too much on the nose, but given that there is no fourth wall to break, these moments don’t jar as much as they would have on a traditional proscenium stage. Another thing that is somewhat lacking, is the brevity and light touch. There are moments of laughter, but these laughs are uncertain, and more than a little awkward. Perhaps this is down to the flawless physicality of Coyle in the role, who makes you feel that if you laugh a little too hard he genuinely might turn on you, something I haven’t felt from an actor in a goodly while.
McPherson does not give us easy answers, and in the end, as an audience we are left questioning what was real, and what was simply the product of a broken mind. Perhaps that might leave an audience feeling bleaker than when they walked in, but it’s only as the final lighting cue plays out and we realise that the sun has risen, (beautifully realised by Matt Daw on lighting), leaving the audience with that one thing that our nameless critic has been chasing for so long: hope.
Certainly, a night out of the ordinary – not for everyone, but sometimes its worth a leap of faith into the dark
Reviewer: Alice Foster
St Nicholas is currently playing at the Donmar Dryden Street till the 5th October before transferring to the Dublin Theatre Festival 9th-20th October. Limited returns are available through the Donmar Warehouse website: ww.donmarwarehouse.com/production/6789/st-nicholas/
Cast: Brendan Coyle
Director: Simon Evans
Writer: Connor McPherson