Friday, April 22, 2011

The Big Fellah @ The Gaiety

The Big Fellah opened at the Gaiety last night and yours truly was there to report on the action.  When I first heard the name (and nothing else), I presumed it would be about Michael Collins.  It's not.  It is about the IRA though.  The play was written by Richard Bean, who is English.  As he said in an interview in the Irish Times earlier this year, "Why should we leave Irish history to the Irish?"  He originally planned to write a play about post 9/11 New York and instead he wrote a 3 decade spanning play about an IRA cell. I was apprehensive about how this would translate to something entertaining but I need not have been.  Perhaps it takes an outsider to find the humour?
Courtesy of Gerry Lundberg PR
David Costello is the titular Big Fellah, played by Finbar Lynch.  He's like a cross between Frank Sinatra and The Godfather.  Benign when he has to be but able to follow orders when necessary.  The set is the apartment of Michael Doyle, an Irish-American, keen to get involved with "The Cause"; he starts sheltering IRA personnel as they await their next orders.  The first half of the play is funny, mock-serious and it's easy to forget that we're talking about a real terrorist organisation whose actions wrought havoc in these islands for decades.  The darker, more serious side of it appears almost immediately as the curtain comes up on the second half.  While there is still humour, it's grim and I found myself tensing up as the dates (which flash up to indicate the passage of time) began to line up with the most serious actions of the IRA's terror campaign: Enniskillen, Omagh, and so on.

Out of Joint is an international touring company and it was hard to guess where the cast came from.  Accents were excellent, particularly that of Luke Griffin's Ruairi, who undergoes a Cork - New York conversion, and David Rintoul's Frank McArdle.  I've never heard so much conveyed with "aye" - and he is almost unrecognisable from his 80s role of Mr D'arcy in the BBC's less famous production of Pride & Prejudice.

With its violent themes, bad language and, surprisingly, full nudity, this is not a play to bring the kids to.  I was disappointed to hear at least 3 phones ring during the performance, one was even answered, which necessarily caused the actors to pause.  For an opening night, the theatre had plenty of empty seats.  RTÉ elder lemons were thick on the ground: it's strange to see someone as famous as Gay Byrne up close.

The Big Fellah runs until 7th May and continues on to the Everyman theatre in Cork. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. I waited until after I saw the play last night to read it so as to know as little as possible about the story in advance. The performances were quite good and I liked the way the story progressed over decades of IRA history. As an American living in Ireland, I knew at least the basics of most of the historical references included in the plot which helped.

    The theatre was also quite empty for the Tuesday after a bank holiday and even after closing the top balcony level, it was still less than 50% full which was sad to see for such a high quality production. The play seemed well marketed around Dublin so I'm not sure why it was not more popular.

    Also I found it amusing that there was a warning posted in the theatre that loud gunshot sounds might be disturbing. However if this play was shown in the U.S. the warning would have been about the full nudity and not the violence :)