There are many qualities we expect from a memoir and some we attach to solo performances, but self-effacement isn’t one of them. That, however, is the first note of Peter Sheridan’s involving new monologue, adapted from his autobiographical book 47 Roses, when he fails even to respond to his own name, announced on a bus to Derry, trailing a grave message.
Warm, disarming and wry, Sheridan starts as he means to continue, putting his voice at the service of another Peter Sheridan, his father, whose death reveals a complicated relationship between his parents and another woman, Doris.
As Sheridan recalls the woman who, for nearly 50 years, had been considered just a family friend, his story acquires an intriguingly shifting narrative; part memoir, part bildungsroman, part detective story.
If that suggests that real-life heartbreaks, recollections and exposed secrets summon their own forms, Sheridan may also be trying to elegantly disappear from the story’s construction.
Streamlined from the novel, though, even Proustian memories of the family home in Saville Place have a gentle, sly significance.
“Is that what we got a television for?” asks his mother, watching Queen Elizabeth in 1960. “That woman coming into my kitchen on a horse?”
The real intrusion, though, is more discreet and heartrending.
When Doris arrives from Lancashire with 47 red and white roses for Da’s grave, Sheridan begins to investigate their secret relationship with Oedipal fascination.
Retracing his father’s footsteps abroad while opening old wounds at home, his journeys draw subtle parallels with an impossible relationship between England and Ireland, as though all personal stories are helplessly political.
As performer and writer, Sheridan is magnificently compassionate, alive to the connection Doris gives him to his father (“He was there”) and sensitive to the emotional, if not sexual, betrayal she represents to his mother.
Director Maggie Byrne over-indulges certain moments, even if it is appropriate to hear Sheridan singing his father’s party piece, Frankie and Johnny.
But she also knows the value of restraint, where just a quick wince of emotion from the phlegmatic Sheridan speaks volumes.
Making a personal story public requires such tact, and their combined sensitivity lets us step into a story so vivid, affecting and lingering that it almost feels like our own.
It may appear effortless, but that again is the art of invisibility. No less than understanding, grieving or forgiving, storytelling is a painstaking process. Those secrets, Sheridan keeps to himself.
Peter Crawley Irish Times
Running Time 1 hour 15 mins. incl. interval
Peter Sheridan has remade the lost world of sixties Dublin in this knock-out memoir, a gently powerful act of memory and love.’Sebastian Barry
‘Peter Sheridan writes at the crossroads where hilarity and heartbreak, tenderness and savagery meet. The people who live there are often cruel, often magnificent, and always, always human. He captures them perfectly.’Roddy Doyle