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Of late, comedian Patrick Kielty’s television career has embraced the lightest of light entertainment. In this revival of Marie Jones’s football-focused one-hander – his straight theatre debut – he discovers a weighty introspective heart that was absent in his work on Fame Academy.
The titular night is November 17 1993 in Belfast, where Kenneth McCallister, a Protestant petty bigot, discovers bigotry of a not-so-petty order at a match between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Sectarian taunts celebrating a recent massacre ring out. Disgusted, McCallister feels a shame that alienates him from a world in which he now finds bigotry everywhere. Sadly, this world is only partially realised. Kielty’s depictions of McCallister’s staid, oppressive family are a little, well, staid. And yet…
McCallister is a filter through which Jones feeds gobbets of early 1990s Belfast life. Unsurprisingly, what the filter lets us see is partial. Surprisingly, this didacticism is far from undramatic; it’s when Kenneth steps back from the action to articulate his frustration and shame that Kielty finds meat in the writing and passion in his performance.
But, like football, A Night in November is a game of two halves. So Damascene is McCallister’s conversion that, having witnessed the joyful, carefree lifestyle of his Catholic co-worker, he sells his golf clubs and sneaks off to New York to follow the Republic in their World Cup campaign. The fans are all full of the craic, he wears a silly hat and feels like he belongs.
This provides Kielty with an opportunity to cut loose, in which he visibly revels. McCallister’s journey becomes a drunken rollercoaster ride, and very enjoyable it is too. But it doesn’t articulate much about the bigotry and shame that kicked off the whole thing. In the end then, we enjoy a buttoned-up man’s escape from a narrow conservative world while lamenting that the emotional promise in the play’s early, angry engagement with bigotry remains unfulfilled.