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  • Henry Longstaff

The Daylight Atheist - The Old Red Lion

The UK premiere of Tom Scott’s revered play

The Daylight Atheist - Old Red Lion


Having played to sold-out houses across New Zealand and Australia, The Daylight Atheist has landed in London twenty-two years later. Charting the bitter life of his father, Tom Scott’s semi-auto-biographical piece is a behemoth of a one-man play that spans multiple countries and decades, demonstrating the gradual decline of a man fuelled by toxic pride and enduring resentment. 

Beginning with his early years in Ireland throwing stones at the Catholics, Danny Moffat describes his life as he reflects from the rundown bomb site of a room (quite literally through the impressively packed and detailed set design) that he now resides in. Moving through his post-war duties in Germany before joining the New Zealand Air Force and emigrating to said country, but not before he gets a fellow Irish woman pregnant and two years after a rushed marriage she joins him on the other side of the world. He speaks of their time in rural New Zealand, short of cash and short of opportunities, spiteful at the life he has found himself in, the nastiness barely contained.

This play is a sad and uncomfortable watch and requires a near career-defining performance to ensure the production is more than a depressing slog for an audience to power through. On the whole Owen Lindsay is great as Danny, his malicious chuckles and wild tension bringing the intensity to the role, more so in the later portion of the play as the piece builds. Initially, he is more unsettled in the part, taking time to bed in like a challenging novel, willing the reader to push through the first few chapters with the promise that the narrative will get going soon. Despite the crescendo towards the end of the performance, it still felt as if there was more to be found in the play, whether that be through the script, direction or delivery, many sections begin to collate in a gloomy hollow as Moffat bullies his wife and children, refusing to call them by their names, opting for cruel nicknames instead.

Lindsay’s own Irish and New Zealand heritage has equipped him more than adequately to navigate the varying accents of the supporting characters in Danny’s story. He effortlessly switches through their voices, though more of a physical change could have enhanced them further. He excels in finding Moffat’s dark, nonchalant humour that forms a thin veil over his malice. The off-the-cuff dry remarks feel natural and witty but there is no escaping the impact his words and actions are having on his suffering family. Moffat takes far greater care of his friend Jack, caring for him at his bedside as he dies from cancer. Though Lindsay brings emotion to these sombre moments, the script has done little to give depth into who Jack is and it is therefore hard to buy into Moffat’s sorrow. 

Scott’s writing is unflinching in its detail, vividly describing gruesome and heartbreaking events but it is a challenge to remain engaged with the macabre onslaught. He sculpts the figure of a man who is beyond melancholy, hating the world around him for simply existing, offering no form of redemption or pity. I suppose The Daylight Atheist exists as a warning, threatening a lonely and cold existence if you choose to dwell in bitterness and spite but the overwhelming effect is a bleak one. 

Running until 4th May - Tickets

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