REVIEW: 31 Hours

Kieran Knowles' 31 Hours, directed by Nuala Donnelly, isn't merely a play. It is an extremely harrowing contemplation of the male character both inside the zone of a particularly tough workplace and out of it, and an insight into how hard separating work and life can be when one runs the risk of dedicating their life to one thing at the expense of the other, however necessary it may be or seem.

The production I see during the month of August 2019 is director Donnelly's response to a male suicide epidemic, where friends of friends and family members of friends were going missing with absolutely no hint of why they were missing to begin with. It was revealed that each missing male had ended their life. 31 Hours is our view into this world - and it is essential viewing. Not easy, of course, given the subject matter, but essential.

The four men we see on stage – Ste (Robert Crawford), John (Richard McFerren), Neil (Matthew Blaney) and Doug (Jonny Everett) – are in clear and relentless discomfort in their Network Rail uniforms, hard hats, hi vis overalls and all. They shine out as a helping hand to the general public – they scrub and scrub, adrenaline flowing in the filth and dirt... while they're exhausted by the hurt.

Minutes in, and Knowles' strive for poetic meaning has already touched an undeniable chord.

Digging deeper, Knowles, Donnelly and the quartet of fine actors find further truths. When does the initial joy of work dissolve into a chore when the right voice is no longer around to listen to you? That, to me, is a key theme - that the lifestyle and the people who you think will always be there for you won't be. And that includes the families we support and need support from, who still have to live their own lives. The burden isn't solitary - it's multiple. And shutting yourself off in a zone, living on your own terms, isn't a viable alternative - it's worse. The balance we crave may never be found.

Commitment, to domestication or a workplace, is demanding as well as rewarding, and it is 31 Hours' emphasis on the former that makes it shine as a piece of work. As the eighty-minute play proceeds, each actor becomes more distinctive in presenting superficial calmness, frenzied panic and deadly apathy, each rising as the window of honesty that most men are simply not encouraged to open regarding their mental health finally creaks open – to reveal a profoundly unique pain. The price of living a life of logic and reason detached from feeling and sentiment. The loss of a reason for being. The fear of being replaced by less expressive drones.

How far will others go, 31 Hours asks, in brushing off depression, anxiety, panic attacks or any kind of mental illness as not being worthy of the male psyche or image before it is too late? How long will males, or to be honest, anyone, in society be able to conceal their unquenchable longing for personal intervention? I see the play as an encapsulation of hurt, the need for security and stability. I see it and I feel, from the stage, a relentless pressure pounding. The pressure to be right, reliable and strong, pressure which rebounds into a deadly, enclosed state of mind inhabited by fear. Fear of reaching out, fear of breaking the ice, fear of properly expressing oneself. It may well be that we need those extra seven hours in the day - hence the title? - the seven hours that we don't have to properly find the voice, warmth and compassion that everyone desires and, truly, deserves. Sometimes, hard-hitting isn't strong enough an adjective to describe an invaluable work like this.

Simon Fallaha

31 Hours, a PintSized Production, toured Belfast, Derry-Londonderry and Newry throughout August.

Recent Theatre Reviews