Thursday 27 October 2016

'Are You There Garth? It's Me, Margaret' review: 'Looney's tired, cliche-ridden writing and O'Kane's limp performance'

Emer O'Kelly

Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30

On the table: Deirdre O Kane who plays Margaret and Maclean Burke as Garth Brooks in Fiona Looney's play at the Gaiety. Photo: Brian McEvoy
On the table: Deirdre O Kane who plays Margaret and Maclean Burke as Garth Brooks in Fiona Looney's play at the Gaiety. Photo: Brian McEvoy

Fiona Looney's Are You There Garth? It's Me, Margaret offers the audience Deirdre O'Kane and an ironing board. In badly directed bad plays about housewives, they always iron interminably, but avoid collars and cuffs and tricky bits.

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In this one (at the Gaiety in Dublin), Margaret's husband has obtained tickets for the first of the notorious Garth Brooks concerts at Croke Park, and as the storm gathers around them, she prays to Garth from behind the ironing board not to let her down because of the time she prayed to god that her little boy wasn't really autistic (he was.) She tells him about her pre-teen daughter who is unpopular and got-at at school, and her other son who is refusing to buckle down for his Junior Cert, as well as her husband who is increasingly detached from his parental duties. So Garth owes her.

It's game, set, and match for a frazzled life-style, but in Looney's tired, cliche-ridden writing and O'Kane's limp performance, there isn't a sign of a frazzle.

Margaret's musings are interspersed with squibs (not even amounting to sketches) in which three men (Maclean Burke, Jonathan White and Stephen Jones) sit at a table and serially pretend to be (you can't call it acting) GAA officials, Dublin City councillors, City officials, concert promoters, Croke Park residents, members of the Cabinet, and American mid-west heavies, all indistinguishable from each other except for the different jackets and a few terrible impressions of the Taoiseach, Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Christy Burke, and Brooks himself.

It all limps to the conclusion we already know about, and a bizarre and garbled attempt by the author to link the debacle to Anglo-Irish Bank.

The concept is as tawdry and cheap as the dialogue, and certainly does no favours to the women it seems to purport to champion, those whose aspirations may be limited through no fault of their own, and to whom attendance at a Garth Brooks concert apparently represents a solitary high in the drudgery of an unsatisfactory 15-year marriage.

Are You There, Garth? It's Me, Margaret doesn't offer much to the committed Brooks fan, since only one of his numbers is included as a set piece. Saving graces are a highly professional set and lighting from Kate Moylan and Conleth White respectively.

* * * * *

Going Spare Productions stage Going Spare, written by Siobhan Donnellan, and performed by Siobhan Donnellan. Spot the mistake, deliberate or otherwise.

To start with, Donnellan's one-woman piece, at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin (early evening Tuesday to Saturday and lunchtime Wednesdays and Saturdays) is not a play, it's a short story. It also has a lot of characters, and as an actor she's swamped in her attempts to portray them all.

The piece does have a touching, if unlikely core, although like many attempts at rural-based drama by young writers, it presents as strangely dated and old-fashioned. Maisie's childhood friend Declan has been killed. She wants to recreate him, or at least "reach" him, so she goes to a psychic. And everyone's nice to her, and she finds peace. That's it; but there's an awful lot of convolution along the way.

An independent dramaturg might have helped; and since this piece was apparently given project funding by the Arts Council under Galway's Theatre Development Programme, one wonders why there's no programme credit for one.

Donnellan is directed by Aoife Connolly.

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