Tom Scott's portrait of his father miraculously creates a highly entertaining show while delivering a brutal account of an appalling cruel and mean-spirited man. The writing sparkles with wit; harrowing childhood memories are brought to life with sharply rendered details, lyrical flourishes and wildly inventive comic embellishments.
The extended monologue of The Daylight Atheist pays homage to the artistry of the Irish raconteur and Michael Hurst nails the part with a bravado display of vividly animated story-telling. His performance establishes a confessional tone that draws the audience into the harsh truths of a man who feels no need to conceal his nastiness. It also succeeds in evoking the pathos of a profoundly tragic figure who wilfully rejects the sustenance which comes from normal human intimacy.
One senses the writing has been a deeply cathartic process and we feel the bewilderment of a young child struggling to understand why his father takes such fiendish delight in hurting and humiliating his own family.
There no easy answers on why Da is the way he is. The play suggests the pat psychological explanations relating to a grim Irish childhood are inadequate when set against the unrelenting malevolence of man who refuses to show any affection towards his own children.
The only glimmers of humanity come in the lively descriptions of time spent in the alcohol-soaked camaraderie of the pub. The play's most poignant moment comes as the great Irish raconteur entertains his dying Maori workmate with hilarious put-downs of his soccer-playing son and his relentless cynicism gives way to a revealing display of emotion at the tangi of his drinking partner.
ATC's superb production conjures up a compelling vision of small-town squalor and the show is the best possible advertisement for the companion piece, Joan, running on alternate nights, in which the writer pays tribute to his long-suffering mother.
What: The Daylight Atheist
Where & When: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until February 23
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton