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ARTS DIARY: The Flags/ Royal Exchange, Manchester; THEATRE.

Byline: MALCOLM HANDLEY

LIFE'S a beach, and anyone who has ever travelled knows there are no two beaches the same.

Some are made for fun, some for just lazing and some just stun the eyes with aesthetic charm.

The beach at the centre of Bridget O'Connor's gritty comedy The Flags is not like any of those and perhaps it's just as well.

Life on this small Irish beach is a trial from one seagull-screeching day to another, with more debris than bathers, as much politicking as any parish council could muster and two totally inept coastguards - and it overflows with sharp gritty and totally irreverent humour.

The plot centres on a small, unfashionable bay looked after by coastguards who have as much chance of saving a life as they have of swimming across the Atlantic in a gale.

Leader of the coastguards is Francis Magee as JJ, whose colourful past is not quite what it seems - much like his lifesaving talents - along with Howie (Eamonn Owens) whose prowess at shooting seagulls is far better than his ability to check tides and currents.

Into this chaotic summer idyll comes The Girl, played with utter madness by Siobhan McSweeney and Kieran Cunningham as council official Brendan with more on his mind than checking the beach.

Imagine Father Ted meets Steptoe and Son on a summer holiday and you will begin to get the picture - but only just. The Flags is a slice of comedy as refreshing as a sea breeze - but perhaps not one wafting along this beach.

Magee and Owens are a hilarious double act even when the script catches the raw nerves. Director Greg Hersov has clearly allowed enough freedom to just allow the pair, their actions and the dialogue to collide over and over again - like vindictive dodgem cars at a seaside fairground.

This beach will never win a Blue Flag, but you will enjoy sinking your toes into its gritty Galway sand.

CAPTION(S):

Francis Magee as JJ, leader of the coastguards
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 14, 2007
Words:334
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