Is it possible to make compelling theatre out of a cardiac arrest? John O’Donoghue went to see Doug Devaney’ show, part of Brighton’s Five Pound Fringe.
Three years ago Doug Devaney had a heart attack. He was 44. By today’s reckoning that’s quite young. Perhaps not if you live in Glasgow or Belfast, but for folks who live in the South East of England – Devaney lives in Brighton – this shows a kind of precocity Shirley Temple would envy.
In his one man show Devaney takes us through the story of his cardiac arrest, what led up to it, and what came out of it. Devaney was halfway up a hill on the way to a gig, a fundraiser for breast cancer, when his heart felt like it was turning round in his chest and his eyes nearly dropped out of his head. It was a Bank Holiday. So he didn’t see his GP or three days. Then came hospital, the angioplasty, cardiac rehab – the embuggerances of recovery after the pleasures of excess. One of the funniest outcomes was Devaney becoming the Face Of Men’s Health In Brighton And Hove. A bit like Alex Higgins being the poster boy for sobriety.
Devaney is a performer who is all heart. This is no cheap joke, and anyway cheap jokes are the kind of humour he relishes. Perhaps the best response to a brush with death is laughter and this show has plenty of one-liners and old gags to banish the shadows. “I’ve got two sons, 16 and 20. Strange names for boys, but there you are.” “I knew I was a disappointment to my parents, but to be an anti-climax to my sons…” “‘You’ve got Alzheimer’s and cancer.’ ‘At least I haven’t got cancer.’”
Devaney makes clever use of a hospital screen – useful for disappearing behind to re-emerge as a different character, such as the Colonel who explains in military terms exactly what attacked him; a green ukulele, on which he accompanies himself on a hymn to the Fry Up; and a few quick costume changes.
He’s a warm and engaging raconteur, but can turn on a sixpence to confront the grim realities of angina and cardiac failure. There was a moment in last night’s performance when Devaney was ranting and raving at his predicament. ‘Calm down!’ came a voice from the audience. Without missing a beat Devaney responds, incorporating an anxious heckle into his script. Suddenly the wall between theatre and reality comes down and the distinction between performance and life blurs.
It’s the sign of a consummate performer. Devaney gurms, mugs, crack gags, gives us aphorisms, routines, sings – and acts his socks off. I was about to type ‘his heart out’ but that’s one cliché I’ll resist.
And Doug Devaney is worth twice the ticket price. At least. Catch him when you can.