Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: 'The Poor Mouth' in Project Arts Centre

Blue Raincoat Theatre Company currently have a new play running in Project Arts Centre. The The Poor Mouth is an adaptation of the Flann O'Brien novel of the same name. The theatre company have previously produced adaptations of two other O'Brien novels, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. The Poor Mouth is a parody of a style of Irish literature more common in O'Brien's time, devoted to moaning about the hardship of Irish life - the dreadful weather, the centuries of oppression, the abject poverty, and so on. The protagonist, Bónapárt Ó Cúnasa, lives with his family in a rural, Irish-speaking area, and the play tells us of his trials and misfortunes.

I saw the play having deliberately avoided any prior knowledge of it - I've read The Third Policeman (yes, Lost) but not The Poor Mouth, so I can't comment on how faithful an adaptation it is and this review is entirely aimed at the rest of you who haven't read the book. Take it as a positive sign that having seen the play I want to read the novel.

There's a lot to like about this production. The music is lively, the story is enjoyable, the stage is a lovely grey-green-brown map of Ireland dotted with little cottages, and O'Brien's mockery of gaelgoirs is hilarious and inspires by far the best scene of the play. I would have appreciated all of this more if the stage-lighting hadn't been pointed outwards towards the audience. Alright, it was at an angle and I was unfortunate to be in the worse possible spot (front row, left) but nonetheless the dramatic effect doesn't justify dazzling the unlucky spectators who're seated in the wrong place.

A more serious problem on the night I saw the play was that actress Ruth Lehane (playing the protagonist Ó Cúnasa) stumbled over her lines far too often. As Ó Cúnasa's dialogue dominates the play and at times is almost a monologue this was particularly noticeable.

And is it just me or did man-dressing-as-a-woman humour stop being funny some time last century?

The Poor Mouth is excellent in parts and enjoyable overall, but its cleverness isn't enough to make this an entirely satisfying performance.

Rating: 3 / 5

The Poor Mouth runs in Project Arts Centre, East Essex Street, until 24th November 2012. Performances start at 8 pm with a duration of about 1 hour 40 minutes without an interval. There is also a matinee at 3 pm on 24th November. Tickets cost from €16 to €20.

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