Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Theatre: The Luck of the Irish

Megan Wilding and Seamus Quinn
Yesterday was the 112th anniversary of the summer’ afternoon James Joyce and Nora Barnacle stepped out together in Dublin, later immortalized as the day in which he set Ulysses. It has been celebrated as Bloomsday for over nine decades, in homage to the book, its author and the joys of alcohol.
The Irish Club staged its 26th (and, some report, last) Bloomsday last night, with performances by the illustrious and indefatigable Colm O’Doherty, his lovely daughter Damien, and other luminaries.
As the luck of the Irish would have it, there’s been a lot of it around this week; from the saga of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna in Finn O’Branagain and Scott Sandwich’s illuminating, poetic The Epic at the Blue Room to Taryn Ryan’s show-stopping Ireland in WAAPA’s smashing Legally Blonde at the Regal (both reviewed here).
But they were mere tastes; for the whole stew, it’s off to WAAPA and, where else, the Irish Club.

 The Playboy of the Western World
By JM Synge
Directed by Patrick Sutton
Set designer Dolly-Mere Nettleton
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
12 – 18 June

JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World perfectly matched his friend WB Yeats’ observation that genius is never like a country’s idea of itself. In 1907, when The Playboy’s opening at The Abbey Theatre caused riots and dire threats (this in a time and place where threats needed to be taken seriously), the Nationalist fervour gripping the Irish wasn’t prepared for a hero who lied that he had murdered his father (the old man didn’t die) and was lionized – and lusted after – by the cantankerous, scabrous denizens of Flaherty’s tavern in County Mayo. There’s nothing new about political correctness.
Not only were these people not the sober, industrious Irish the Nationalists were promoting as ready and able for independence from England, but their language (which sounds to us, now, cute and comic, like Father Ted) was an affront to both the Gaelic that should, or the literate English that could, have been spoken.
Whatever it’s provenance, and however much it’s a scabrous misrepresentation, The Playboy is a marvelous thing. Like the WAAPA 3rd Year Acting class’s recent, superb, All My Sons, this is a rare opportunity for us to see a great work that fashion and economics generally keep from us.
The director of the National Theatre School of Ireland, Patrick Sutton, who staged Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan for WAAPA in 2013, returns for this production, and he paints with a broad brush that well suits the text, and his young cast.
Just occasionally the accents run away with diction, once in a while the action escapes from the tempo, but it’s a hoot from when Christy Mahon (Seamus Quinn) and Pegeen Mike (Claudia Ware) first clap eyes on each other until Christy and his dad (Rian Howlett) – having survived another attempt by his son to dispatch him – stagger off leaving Pageen and the rest bereft of their Playboy.
The entire cast get into the spirit of the play and Sutton’s direction, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Megan Wilding, who’s Widow Quinn would steal just about any show. A graduate of WAAPA’s Aboriginal Theatre diploma course, and the winner of this year’s Sally Burton Award for 3rd Year Acting performance, her extraordinary presence doesn’t distract us for an instant from her talent; she will do great things, and challenge deeply imbedded preconceptions doing them.
By Mary Kenny
Directed by Noel O’Neill
Performed by James Hagan, Bryn Coldrick, Maggie Meyer and Kim Taylor
WA Irish Club
12 – 18 June

Mary Kenny’s imagining of the private relationship between the Irish Nationalist fighter Michael Collins and the then British Imperialist politician Winston Churchill during the negotiations for Irish Home Rule/ Independence in 1921.
Churchill was essentially a backward-looking man, a Victorian relic, while Collins looked forward to concepts of independence, and the insurgencies that were needed to obtain it. Both, though, shared tremendous determination and persuasive powers, masking deeply troubled personalities. They were polar opposites, and made for each other.
Kenny’s work is perforce speculative, and only partly persuasive. As drama, it lacks an internal narrative; what we have is Churchill (James Hagan) and Collins (Bryn Coldrick) essentially projecting themselves, and their relationship, onto events that, while they were deeply and personally involved, are external to the action.
But while Allegiance seems, in many ways, an animated lecture, it has two great strengths: it presents with impressive clarity the issues and conflicts, internal and external, that made the resolution of the “Irish Question” so difficult and dangerous; it also provides two very meaty character studies, and James Hagan and Bryn Coldrick (Maggie Meyer and Kim Taylor, as Churchill’s private staff, complete the cast) are impressive and convincing as two great adversaries who became allies in the search for peace and justice.
We know, or think we know, Churchill very well, but Collins is a name and some grainy photographs to most of us, myself included. Kenny, Hagan and Coldrick make us feel we know them both much better. 

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