The latest offering from The Abbey opened on Wednesday to great acclaim, so Dave and I thought we'd better see it and report. We did so last night and the following review is our combined opinion. As a title, Drum Belly doesn't give much away and indeed it's more than half way through the 90 minute run (no interval) that you find out the origin of the name. Richard Dormer was commissioned to write this for the Abbey. The play opens on a minimalist set - a poured concrete floor, bare walls with props moved on and off by the actors. It's Brooklyn, 1969, and the characters are all involved in organised crime. Liam Carney's garrulous Harvey Marr talks to a silent Gerard Byrne's Walter Sorrow for at least 10 minutes. The brash tone of his talk is set against the silence of Sorrow's careful work (I don't want to spoil the surprise). In fact, the juxtaposition of silent characters with incredibly loud and talkative ones is used more than once to great effect throughout the show. At this stage, I had no idea where the play was going. The following scene, and I promise I'm not doing a blow by blow here, changed everything. It included a dance number, a jukebox and a man named Mary. This brings me to a point: there are no women in this play. It's true that had there been a female role, it would have been quite token (like the Sopranos or other popular dramas about organised crime) but I still felt it strange to be watching a play entirely without women.
All of the characters are brilliantly drawn and solidly acted. Ciarán O'Brien again shines like the rising star he is but I also loved Ryan McPartland's nuanced performance along with Gerard Byrne's entirely silent turn. The set echoed the drama in a curious way: at the start, everything is clean cut and tidy but as the drama unfolded and became more complex, the stage became messier, literally strewn with the detritus of previous scenes. The neatfreak in me was bothered by this litter but it worked within the context. Also, they score points for having rain on the stage - I love this in live theatre. I think the decision to run without an interval is the right one - the spell would be broken by a pause and difficult to regain. The use of music throughout was excellent and had the audience toe-tapping along.
Ultimately, it's a solid but not stellar production...and I felt very much a man's play. Dave liked it more than I did but we were both thoroughly entertained and we talked about it for ages afterwards. Incidentally, the bar has themed cocktails - a nice touch. Drum Belly runs until 11th May and tickets start at €13.