Toby Lichtig, review of Missing Persons by Colin Teevan, in Times Literary Supplement (10 Feb. 2006)

Details: Toby Lichtig, ‘Voices of the Not Forgotten’, review of Missing Persons, in Times Literary Supplement (10 Feb. 2006), p.19.

The “missing persons” of Colin Teevan’s compelling new play, first seen in Edinburgh last summer, are men in various states of crisis. The situations are modern - a reluctant IRA terrorist forced to decommission his gun, a footballer falling out with his manager - but the themes, of jealousy, loyalty and revenge, are timeless. Teevan’s idiom reflects this, combining everyday speech with the tenor, and sometimes the imagery, of oral epic. Each of the five short monologues has its origins in Greek myth; each is handled by the excellent Greg Hicks with steel and sophistication.

In “The Bull”, a man has a recurring fantasy about castrating his sadistic father. The story derives from the myths of the Titans, as described in Hesiod’s Theogony, which describes how Ouranos (“Heaven”) is castrated by his son, Cronos; the blood spilled forms the Furies. On Cleo Pettitt’s coastal set, to a ghostly soundtrack, Hicks whispers his, wrath, and draws us in. “I am perspiring though I am cold / I feel the unfathomed fear of childhood rising, though I am old”, he murmurs. Painstakingly, he takes us through the emasculation of his “old bull”. He seizes “his wizened sac, / the lizardskin eggs of some monstrous reptile” and pauses before slicing off the genitals and casting them out to sea. The idea of revenge is born: “No longer does my voice seem mine, / But more a voice made dark by time”.

Retribution is also central to “The One Within”, in which Hicks plays the part of a Sinn Fein minister visiting an old Fenian colleague, who refuses to accept political compromise. Hicks switches like a man possessed between the roles of the canny minister and the terrorist - a latter-day Ajax, with the hubristic devotion to cause of an old-school warrior. His rage borders on madness, but his grievances, as the minister wryly observes, are “more the howl of an animal in pain / Than a man who wishes to see his complaints / Considered by the appropriate committee”. As the tension in their confrontation mounts, the atavism is reflected by the epic rhetoric: “And then he keened a keen / Which seemed to come from another world / ... The same deep-down grow his mother groaned / When she had him delivered to this earth. / He wrapped a mighty fist around my hand, / Forcing me to push the barrel to his breast”.

Soured love is at the heart of both “Somedays” and “The Last Word”. In the former, a jilted lover considers what he has lost in verse that blends the yearning of Ariadne with popsong sentimentality: “You are gone and now I see, / You thought you were too good for me”. In the latter, a spurned husband recalls in detail the fatal trajectory of a relationship that ended with him committing infanticide. “Our social group was not typical / Of people who commit such acts”, remarks this masculine Medea, before describing his painful break-up and the descent into brutality. Hicks’s bickering man and woman am each convinced of their rectitude. The tone darkens when she leaves him for someone else; he takes his children on an outing and coolly reads them stories. “Around eight they were tired, / By nine they were sound asleep in bed, / At ten /I put a pillow over / First the elder, then the younger’s head”.

Less chilling, but equally volatile, is Teevan’s final subject, the irrepressible Roy Keane, midfield stalwart of Manchester United (and now of Celtic) and the Republic of Ireland. In “Me Roykeaneiad”, a garrulous Irishman tells the story of the 2002 World Cup, in which Ireland got as far as the last sixteen without their “modern day Achilles”, while the manager “that muppet Mick McCarthy / Sailed home some kind of triumphant Agamemnon”.

Hicks’s craggy face, having thus far registered so beautifully the lines and divisions between rage, anguish and cruelty, now takes on a mischievous aspect, as he slurs his match reports. Against Cameroon, the Irish “gave away a soft one to Mboma: / The defence was in a bleedin’ coma”. Against the Germans, his team equalize in the final minute: “And did we remember our lost warrior? / Did we grow sentimental? / Did we fuck! We went absolutely mental”. But the trauma remains in this “epic in which [Keane] should have starred, / Brim full of rage and redundant”. And even as our narrator props up the bar, he points a moral - the folly of letting passion run pointlessly amok. “Aren’t we the greater fools by far to care / About grown men who kick a ball of air / Around some foreign field for fun. / Now stop your gassing and line us up another one!”

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