Kiwi political journalist and “Footrot Flats” co-screenwriter Tom Scott has mined for his stage debut a childhood among five siblings born of a drunk, abusive father and a brow-beaten mom.
The play is constructed as a series of recollections delivered by Dan Moffat representing Scott’s father, partially fictionalized, and now an old man rattling around the ramshackle room that’s become his home.
When “The Daylight Atheist” opened in 2002 in Wellington, New Zealand, it was hailed as an instant classic. A subsequent Melbourne Theater Company production in 2004 was well-received and will be reprised by Queensland Theater Company this year. But this Sydney Theater Company effort is shambolic and disappointing.
The “Angela’s Ashes”-flavored story begins in Ireland, then moves to London and eventually to New Zealand in the 1950s and ’60s, via Moffat’s brief tour of duty in Canada during World War II.
Moffat is the daylight atheist of the title, so called because of his penchant for being godless during the daylight hours but liable to return to his Catholic faith when faced with the terrors of the night.
Told by a hater drowning in life’s disappointments, the anecdotes of errant children and a hopeless wife, though quite possibly rich on the page, never fully come to life in this production.
The old man never refers to his family members by name, preferring instead the monikers Dingbat, Horse and Egghead. As he rails on and on about them, they have simply shut him out of their lives.
Cullen can be an engaging raconteur, but here his frequent pauses to search for lost lines dissolve the spell necessary to hold an audience in a one-man show spanning more than two hours.
The set is too big and the direction by Adam Cook, new topper of South Australia’s State Theater Company, is weak. As rain leaks through numerous holes in the roof, Cullen chases about with buckets to catch it, but struggles to maintain momentum while doing this.