The Kings of the Kilburn High Road
Set in a nicotine-stained back room of a pub in London’s Kilburn, this is a play about broken dreams, as five middle-aged Irish construction workers gather to ‘wake’ their friend, Jackie, who has died in terrible circumstances. This drink-fuelled gathering is dominated by Jap, an obnoxious, cynical and self-pitying foreman played in a somewhat over-the-top fashion by Phelim Drew. Jap blames everyone but himself for his decision to come to London where the streets are most definitely not paved with gold.
Tellingly, he says: “I’m vanishing over here.” Like his friends, ‘home’ is never too far from his thoughts. But unlike the others, Jap is somewhat delusional with his talk of setting up a business in Ireland. He wants a slice of the Celtic Tiger action “before it’s extinct”. But this is the booze talking, the crutch for these unhappy exiles, ashamed to go home because they are not success stories. That is, apart from Joe played by Charlie Bonner. Arriving late at the pub in his camel coat and plaid scarf, Joe is a source of ire for Jap who resents the fact that he employs Scottish workers on his building sites. Joe has no compunction about saying that his fellow Irishmen are lazy drunks, a home truth nobody wants to hear.
Drinking to quell the pain
Maurteen, however, is a self-confessed alcoholic who starts off drinking lemonade at the session, only to be talked into having “a few” drinks. In a perfectly pitched performance by Seamus O’Rourke, this character, when sober, is full of guilt and self-loathing, ashamed that he beats his wife. But several hours later, he has all the signs of a violent drunk, threatening to abuse his wife.
This exemplifies the cycle of these men’s lives. They are in a loop, in and out of despair, buying never-ending rounds of drinks to quell the pain. This is a fine production from Livin’ Dred. Astutely written by Jimmy Murphy, it reeks of bitterness, occasionally leavened by black humour.