A Holy Show
- Alex Johnston
- 7 August 2019
Gloriously comic and unexpectedly thoughtful show about the hijacking of an Irish airliner
A comic play about a flight from Dublin to London which is hijacked by a short-tempered Australian ex-monk who demands that the Pope tell him the Third Secret of Fatima sounds like cheerful fluff, tapping into time-honoured Irish comedy tropes. The glorious twist of A Holy Show, written and directed with immense brio by Janet Moran, is that Aer Lingus Flight 164 was a real thing.
Clever, economy-class staging whisks the audience back to 1981, when smoking on planes was allowed, booze was free and half the passengers had never flown before. Caitriona Ennis and Patrick Moy effortlessly inhabit a surprisingly large range of characters: a pair of bitchy stewardesses, a golf-obsessed yuppie and his seething personal assistant, two discontented newlyweds, a new grandmother and her unmarried sister. A device that tracks their seat numbers helps the audience keep track of who's who, but Ennis and Moy are so good that it's almost superfluous.
What starts out as energetic character comedy deepens and widens, with Moran's script building on the idea that a common ordeal doesn't so much bring out the best in people as bring out their true nature. As the plane sits on the tarmac, secrets come out, barriers drop, and moments of tenderness, bravery, honesty and selfishness illuminate these people.
There are flashes back to Fatima in 1917, as three Portuguese children receive a vision of the Virgin Mary. Keeping the vision of Fatima in the background enables Moran to make some well-chosen points about faith, scepticism and religion, as the elderly women passengers, like voters who admire the leader while they deplore the party, speculate on whether the Third Secret is about what a 'shower' the church is, even while they assume that God will get them out of the situation.
An almost absurdly stoical patience with extreme situations is a historical feature of Irish life, and A Holy Show is, among other things, a time capsule of an earlier Ireland, that illuminates the distance between the past and its certainties, and the uncertain present. Meanwhile, video clips of politicians and passengers reveal that some of the dialogue that you thought was comic invention turns out to be verbatim.
Trimmed down to a tight 60 minutes from its original production, it's funny, wise and expertly performed. Like Flight 164 itself, it carries you off to places you didn't think it would go.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 Aug, 3pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).