As time goes by October 1985
Sticky Sullivan, by Owen Smullen, Abbey Theatre.
Another triumph for the old firm. With raw material consisting of only a dramatised argument about the relationship between religion and politics, director Tomas McGiolla has had to work hard to give his actors something of substance to get their teeth into. Patiently the director has created space between the author's lines to allow his cast rollick around the stage, dragging their vowels and crunching their consonants, rolling their eyes and twitching their limbs, doing pratfalls and clutching their shawls to their breasts as only Abbey actors can. The resulting familiar Synge-song, a triumph of acting over writing, turns what could have been a dry and serious drama into an enjoyyable piece of knockabout theatre.
Director McGiolla, long the fatherrfigure of Irish theatre (and father of Ferdia McGiolla, part-time bouncer at the Pink Elephant), will shortly direct his own "Och mo chon, shure tis yerself, is it?", a seething drama of life in a Ballymun high-rise flat.
Another triumph for the old master. The play opens with a bare stage, onto which walks a bare actor. Slowly the actor puts on a pair of socks, one of which has a hole through which the left big toe peeks disconcertingly (a typical and unerring Beckett touch). From behind the bare backdrop he gradually takes various pieces of clothing. This being Beckett, the clothing is humdrum and pedestrian. Shorts, shirt, jeans, jacket, tie (no pullover, an omission which I thought weakened the piece). Where another dramatist might have been tempted to intrude a waistcoat or an overcoat, Beckett's aesthetic sense never fails him and he goes just far enough to make his point.
Dressed, the actor searches his pockets, finds them empty. He turns to the audience and murmurs, "So, that's it." The curtain falls.
As impressive as this version is, I must admit I prefer the London prooduction, with actress Fennella McGraw in the part. The moment in which she , drew on her laddered tights was theaatrical magic.
A Pinter Plain, starring Fluther Flynn, Basement Theatre.
At last this nondescript ham who has for so many decades played butlers, second cousins and insurance salesmen who never appear after the first act, has revealed himself as a dazzling actor of immense depth and insight. Fluther, who has been putting together this one-man-show for the last twelve years, hired out The Basement and has prooduced the piece himself. I'm sure that when word gets around there will be far fewer empty seats than were evident last night.
Fluther, in a flash of inspiration, has drawn his material from the works of Harold Pinter. What he has done is string together all of the more signifiicant pauses from the author's various works.
This two-hour tour-de-pause demonnstrates the actor's confident command of his art. One pause follows another with breakneck speed. The litany of hesitations, procrastinations, tentative blinks and aborted gestures, when isolated from the distractions of plot and dialogue, illuminates the dramaatist's art and, dare one say, throws new light on a body of work with which some of us had perhaps become over-familiar.
Some might fear that such an imagiinative anthology might be too homoogenous, a single note played monotoonously. It is. But don't let that spoil your appreciation of a fine idea superbbly executed. To most of us a pregnant pause from The Birthday Party might be indistinguishable from an expectant hush from The Caretaker, but in the hands, and the shrugged shoulders, of an actor at the peak of his form they assume new meanings.
Molly Crock, Project
This late-night offering by the British celebrity with the aCe press agent has been a cause of some controversy. Persistent efforts to get Councillor Ned Brennan to condemn the show three weeks before it opened bore no fruit. Therefore, Molly had to go ahead unassisted. Bravely she did her party piece, recalling all of the more risque jokes and anecdotes she had heard David Niven, Arthur Askey and Joan Rivers tell on the Michael Parkinnson Show all those years ago. A lasttminute press conference in which Molly described Ned as a "backward bigot" brought in some of the dirty mac brigade but, all in all, this can't be counted as one of the Festival's major successes.
The Old Lady Says Noh, by Dlick
o 'Yamaha, Abbey (second week) Having conquered the Yeats and Eliot formulas, Ulick now demonstrates his Noh-how. A verse play done in mime with the aid of Japanese masks, the work succinctly encapsulates the efffects on the Irish psyche of 800 years or thereabouts of colonialism.
Grrrrrrrrr!, by F. Albert Hall, Peacock Another triumph for the angry Norrthern author. The plot revolves around David, a confused and angry but essenntially nice young Belfast man who just wishes "the troubles" would go away and leave him alone. "I just wish the troubles would go away and leave me alone!" he shrieks at the play's climacctic point. Sad to say, this is not to be.
The play seethes with anger. "I'm angry," says David, "I'm bloody angry." Peace almost enters his life, in the shape of Fidelma, his fiancee from the other side of the peace line. But she is too placid for him. "Why don't you," he cries, "show your anger, bloody show your bloody anger, right?" But Fidelma wants to talk about whether to settle for a melaamine kitchen or go the whole hog and get Scandinavian pine. "Jesus," says David, "you make me so bloody angry."
Eventually the paramilitaries (and the great strength of this work is that we don't know, or indeed care, what their religion is) burst in the door and shoot Fidelma dead. "Christ!" says David, "Now I'm really gonna get mad!"
One leaves the theatre with what can only be described as a feeling of absolute, but restrained, anger.
Are You There, Moriarity?, by Hugh Leonard, Gate
Another triumph for Hugh. A change of mood, this time. The hero, Jack (Dick Powell), discovers that his eccenntric accountant, Russell Moriarity (Elisha Cook), has pulled a Houdini with a sizeable portion of Jack's money, faked his own death and dissappeared. Jack, an old movie buff, has always had a secret longing to be a shamus. So off he sets in pursuit of his quarry. What follows is an affecctionate pastiche of Chandler, Hammet et al, a blazingly funny pantomime in the best Leonard tradition.
This is not to say that it is all just superficial humour, an Irish Neil Simon. Hugh, underneath it all, is a serious writer. The sub plot deals frankly and yet subtly with the angst of modern suburban man in the midst of economic recession. Will Da inflict scorn on his manhood, re-opening old wounds, when he discovers that Jack is now unable to meet the repayments on the double-glazing? How will Myrna feel now that they can't get rid of that old Scandinavian pine kitchen and get the real oak he has for so long proomised her?
A'full, rounded evening, the humour balanced with significance. One' goes home feeling that the author has not only made one laugh but has said something. Or other.
Robert Wilson, by Robert Wilson, Wilson Theatre
This is not so much a playas a great theatrical event. Wilson, son of noveelist and critic Edmund, is noted for his epic productions in the USA. Here he does a single-hander, giving us just a taste of his flair and imagination.
Hopping on stage on a pogo stick, he does several circuits of the stage and comes to rest with his back to the audience. He then leaves the theatre, takes a taxi to Fairview and has a smoked cod and chips. Returning in less than an hour he bounds on stage and exclaims, "Rabbits!" Silence.
Then, again, "Rabbits!" Pause. (Fluther Flynn was in the audience, taking notes.) Then, "The barber used to charge ten cents." Pause. "The barber, back then, he charged ten cents."
Just as we are assimilating this pain, Wilson abruptly changes mood. "The freeways are full of cars. The freeways are full of cars. All over the freeways, cars, far as the eye can see. April 19 1967. That was the date. April 19 1967. The freeways are full, and it used to be ten cents."
At this point last night a member of the audience stood up and said, "Ah, fuck, I can't do it, I'm going home." And I did.