Dave Allen was brilliant at pointing out the ironies and absurdities of life… and death. He was a storyteller who loved to poke fun at religion at a time, particularly in his native Ireland, when the church was extremely powerful. His shows were banned by the Irish broadcaster, RTE.
He said, “I’m an atheist, thank God,” and he insisted he was not making fun of religion but people’s concept of religion. As a child at a strict Catholic school, even though they tried to scare him with hell and damnation, his natural intelligence and curiosity made him question faith and belief.
Kieran Cunningham completely embodied the comedian, who has been called the father of alternative comedy. From the voice to the hand gestures and all his other little mannerisms he brought Allen back to life. Which is particularly ironic as the monologue concerns itself chiefly with death.
What he provided was more than a mere impression of the man. Cunningham delved deeper, bringing to life the burning intelligence that lay behind Allen’s comedy in a deeply layered portrayal of a tortured soul who used that pain to be funny. He understands that the comedian was, like the fool in a Shakespeare play, a clown and a wise man at the same time. It was a deeply affecting and soulful performance with plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure.
Allen died in 2005 at the age of just 68, killed, he says, by smoking, “I used to smoke between smokes.” He did give up but too late. I remember seeing a clip of him on TV when he said how he had got his sense of smell back, “I can actually get up in the morning and open the windows, throw them open and breathe and smell again… petrol, carbon monoxide, dog shit.”
His father died when Allen was just a boy, he was only 12 years old, and it was this death which coloured his life. There was further tragedy when his brother, an alcoholic, killed himself after a cancer diagnosis. Yet the way that death is a part of life became integral to his act.
He joked, ‘The terrible thing about dying over in Ireland is you miss your own wake. It’s the best day of your life. You’ve paid for everything, and you can’t join in. Mind you, if you did, you’d be drinking on your own.’
The monologue starts off with the comedian in limbo waiting for his audience with St. Peter. Dave Allen famously had lost part of a finger, no one knows the true story of how this happened, and Cunningham, to make life easier, makes Allen whole and restores the digit.
Cleverly, the script, intersperses the details of Allen’s story with some of his most famous routines. These stories also mirror the issues he is pondering as he talks about his life, loves and tragedies.
Dave Allen was a thoughtful man who was curious about everything, and his humour came from this desire to understand how the world worked.
The play continues at the Kings Arms on the 15th and 16th March as part of the Manchester Irish Festival and I would recommend it. http://www.kingsarmssalford.com/
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 14th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★