Talking Movies

July 28, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman

Director Wayne Jordan returns to the Abbey after 2012’s The Plough and the Stars for another summer production of a venerable Sean O’Casey Dublin play.

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Donal Davoren (Mark O’Halloran) is trying to write poetry in a Dublin tenement in May 1920. A task rendered nigh impossible by his talkative roommate Seamus Shields (David Ganly), and constant interruptions from a never-ending stream of visitors. There are Shield’s Republican associate Maguire (Muiris Crowley), hated landlord Mulligan (Gerard Byrne), and fellow tenants, the excitable Tommy Owens (Lloyd Cooney) and the flirtatious Minnie Powell (Amy McAllister). And that’s just for starters. Over the course of a long day Davoren gets no verse composed as he finds himself implored by Mrs Henderson (Catherine Walsh) to stand up for put-upon Mr Gallogher (Malcolm Adams) at the Republican courts in his capacity as an IRA gunman on the run. Davoren is happy to play along with this glamorous misunderstanding, until his masquerade suddenly turns all too real with searches, bullets, and bombs…

The Shadow of a Gunman’s two acts are played through without an interval. As so often with Jordan’s work it’s hard to discern the artistic imperative of that decision. It seems impossible for Jordan to inspire negative reviews, but this showcases his consistent flaws as much as it does his trademarks; down to O’Halloran reprising Jordan’s Twelfth Night tic of eschewing socks with shoes. Sarah Bacon’s tenement set has impressive depth, but it has none of the grimy realism of Bob Crowley’s 2011 Juno and the Paycock creation, and it seems to belong to a much later time-period, as does her brightly coloured short dress for Minnie Powell. Perhaps then this production is meant to be a critique of fellow-travellers in the years before the Troubles kicked off, with Davoren a nationalist who talks the talk but shrinks from walking the walk. No. But then sets and costumes have made illusory promises or served one joke in Jordan’s oeuvre before.

The costume is the first step to transforming the confident survivor O’Casey wrote into McAllister’s interpretation of Minnie as wide-eyed innocent. Surrounding her Crowley camps it up as Maguire, and Cooney is nearly a teenager in a Martin McDonagh Leenane play; giving the idea that fighting for anything is a bad joke. Ganly eventually hits his stride as Shields, but it’s hard, after Alice in Funderland, not to feel Jordan is laughing at religion in its own right when it comes to Shields’ religiosity, rather than laughing with anger at the hypocritical use of religion as O’Casey intended. O’Halloran plays Davoren’s frustration well, but his exaggerated movements seem a bit too much commedia dell’arte elsewhere; this is not a role akin to his scene-stealing turn in Hay Fever after all.

Gunman, courtesy of Mel Mercier’s impressive sound design, ends with a bang; but this is a consistently misfiring production.

2/5

The Shadow of a Gunman continues its run at the Abbey until August 1st.

February 4, 2014

A Skull in Connemara

Director Andrew Flynn brought the second instalment of Martin McDonagh’s celebrated Leenane trilogy to skull-battering life in the Gaiety Theatre.

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Mick Dowd (Garret Keogh) is our downtrodden protagonist, forgetful of the months since his wife died at his hands in a drink-driving accident seven years previously. He supplements his farming income with a macabre odd-job, digging up graves after seven years to allow new burials in the plots of the small local cemetery. This leads to a continuous niggling argument with his neighbour and poitin-cadging regular visitor Maryjohnny (Maria McDermottroe) – what has he done with the disinterred bones? Mick insists he can’t say, before quickly saying he buries them in the lake with prayers, after Maryjohnny’s obnoxious teenage grandson Mairtin (Jarlath Tivnan) volubly insists he heard Mick smashed the remains to skitters with a mallet… The local priest has foisted Mairtin on Mick as an assistant, and there’s worse – Mick’s wife is to be exhumed, and her bones disposed of…

Set designer Owen MacCarthaigh pulls off a spectacular scene change as Mick’s decrepit kitchen, which looks like its wall could fall down at any time given the cracks running thru it, actually does fall down, sending a whoosh of air and dust into the front rows, to reveal a cutaway of a graveyard behind it. This set is truly spectacular, slanting down so that graves are visible in the soil on one side, while Mairtin and Mick dig in an excavated pit at the other. Their toil is punctuated by some typical outrageous McDonagh arguments, not least when Mairtin’s older brother, paranoid Garda Thomas (Patrick Ryan) arrives, alternating between inhaler and cigarette, dropping hints that Mick bashed his wife’s head in before driving her into a wall without a seatbelt – leading to a distinction between ‘vague insinuations’ and ‘casting aspersions’.

After the interval and a stunning revelation Flynn goes to spraying-the-front-rows town on Mick and Mairtin’s gleeful approach to exhumation, and there are also some truly choice moments of absurdity as murder accusations, confessions and savagery are punctuated by vicious critiques of Maryjohnny’s conniving bingo habits. As Graham Price and I noted Tivnan’s hyperactive but slightly dim Mairtin is clearly a first cousin of both the indestructible Old Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World and of the equally irksome teenager in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, while Ryan is nicely restrained as his more sober but equally demented brother. But, amidst the comedy, Keogh also offers a genuinely moving depiction of a man burdened by the community’s continually muttered belief that he murdered a beloved wife, who is driven to violent extremes to prove his love for her.

A Skull in Connemara is revived less often than The Beauty Queen of Leenane, possibly because of its greater production requirements and its joyous tastelessness, but this production proves that it’s a fine romp.

4/5

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