Adapted by Owen McCafferty from JP Miller’s screenplay about a couple in a mutually destructive relationship fuelled by alcoholism, Days of Wine and Roses is an evocative play set in 60s London, taking an episodical look at the life of this couple.
Beginning in an airport in Belfast, we meet Donal and Mona, both on their way to start new lives in London. From the very first scene we learn of Arkle, a racehorse Donal is obsessed with — now a legend in Irish racing history — and offers the name to Mona to bet on.
Donal offers Mona a sip from his flask, her first ever taste of alcohol but certainly not the last. In the simple studio theatre with clever set depicting sixties swinging London and photos of the races, the audience is surrounded by the changes Donal and Mona go through.
I found myself frequently forgetting I was watching a play, rather it felt like witnessing someone’s life unfold, with relatively short scenes interspersed with period music and set changes. We follow Mona and Dona into a marriage with a young son: Mona, a dissatisfied housewife, and Donal, a dissatisfied bookie.
The culture of drinking consumes them both and they spiral into a self-destructive and violent relationship. Beautifully directed by Jake Murray, capturing the nuances of a story of seemingly ordinary people dealing with a complicated addiction.
Incredibly performed by Alice Frankham and Danny Solomon, we witness the physical and emotional deterioration of these two once fresh-faced young people on an adventure in the big city. The physical violence portrayed is shocking and is cleverly contrasted with the love these two people share, and the conflict of their desire to lead better lives.
Audience emotions are wrenched from place to place as the couple successfully sober up — only to discover they’d both been hiding alcohol in the house and one celebration spells the end of their brief respite from the addiction.
We are prudently reminded of the time in history — not only by the minimal and movable set but also by historical references that didn’t intrude on the story. Perhaps the hardest-hitting reminder is Donal’s choice to take their son home to Belfast — leaving Mona — and she asks him if he would really be taking their son to a country gripped by the Troubles.
Donal’s decision to leave is influenced by Arkle the horse’s death. It is as if there is nothing left to keep him in London. Arkle is a fascinating motif and metaphor for the choices and behaviour of Donal’s character which Mona never seems to understand. The horse embodies Donal’s passion, obsession, how he loves, and also what he loses.
This performance captivated, surprised, and impressed me. Both actors were impeccable and I was left still invested in the story, we were let into snapshots of the life of a struggling couple but would never know how it ‘ends’. This in itself was an interesting and effective way of ending the play: life doesn’t have happy endings.
As the stage went dark on Donal packing to leave for Belfast, we were left with a strong sense that this story was far from over. I can’t wait to see more from Elysium Theatre Company.