Monday 25 September 2017

Capturing the heroic ordinary

Review: Minding Frankie, Gaiety Theatre, until June 17

Minding Frankie at The Gaiety
Minding Frankie at The Gaiety

Noel Lynch is a functioning alcoholic, barely keeping his job together in a building- ­supplies company. Out of the blue, Stella, with whom he had a one-night stand at a concert, summons him to the cancer ward. She is dying, but is also about to give birth to a baby daughter, Frankie.

It takes Noel a few beats to get used to the news, but he takes it on board, joins AA to help him off the booze, and sets about equipping himself to be a parent. The drama centres on how this single dad adapts to his new responsibilities, under the watchful eye of the busybody social worker Moira, who buzzes around full of mistrust.

We are in the realm of ordinary problems: a messy pregnancy; death from cancer; parents selling the farm; the difficulties of winding a baby. So how do you make this motley miscellany of ordinariness into a dramatic entertainment?

Shay Linehan creates a clever, lean adaptation from Maeve Binchy's 2010 novel by following the author's own customary technique: humour, heart and the ability to cunningly curl a story.

Steve Blount and Clare Barrett, two of Ireland's most gifted comic actors, illuminate the stage with an array of cameos, as well as carrying the heart and soul of the two central characters, Noel and Moira. They exercise their comedy skills to the max; it is a pleasure to watch their consummate skill.

The first half unfolds in a measured fashion, the planks of the story are gently laid. Raising a baby isn't exactly child's play, and Noel encounters difficulties. Moira is haunted by a previous case where she failed to protect a child in her care, and feels baby Frankie might be better off with a foster family.

The drama kicks in big time as the stakes are raised. The audience on opening night was highly responsive, with gales of laughter and, when appropriate, sounds of dismay. Actors love playing at the Gaiety, because despite its 2,000-seat capacity, the Victorian design is capable of creating immense theatrical intimacy. Blount and Barrett work this intimacy very effectively.

Peter Sheridan directs with perfect pitch and timing, creating space for the performers to go the extra, incalculably valuable, few inches. Ciara Murane's charming set evokes children's toys and furniture, with effective use of a suspended circular panel to open the scenes out.

The triumphs in this story are those of little people. Noel's achievements are small and unexceptional, as are Moira's. Their problems, too, are small and inconsequential. This is a show about how it is we succeed at being human. A simple matter, but a profound one. Most people don't lead epic lives, and Maeve Binchy knew better than anyone how to capture the heroic ordinary. A highly entertaining evening at the theatre.

Book it now

1  THE LADYKILLERS

Lyric Theatre, Belfast, until July 8

This Graham Linehan adaptation of the classic Ealing Comedy film gets a Belfast outing, directed by the Lyric’s Jimmy Fay. A crime-caper comedy with the noble aim of making you laugh. Matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

2 DUBLINERS WOMEN

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin until June 17

It’s the run-up to Bloomsday this Friday and if you fancy some James Joyce but can’t be bothered reading him, this lunchtime show will save you the trouble; several of the female characters from Joyce’s Dubliners are brought to life.

3 EVITA

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, until June 17

Argentina’s first lady, Eva Perón, is the subject of this endlessly revived show with music and lyrics by the great Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. If you’ve never seen it, now is your chance. Don’t cry if you miss it.

Stage whispers...

‘Limerick, you’re a lady” is how the popular song goes. This weekend, Limerick will be full of scholars of women’s theatre as Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, hosts The Irish Women Playwrights and Theatremakers Conference.

Following on from the protest energy generated by the Waking the Feminists movement, academics from Limerick decided to gather a bunch of experts to participate in an exchange of views. The programme features seven panels and four plenary sessions. Highlights of today’s programme include: a rehearsed reading of Teresa Deevy’s The King of Spain’s Daughter in the Lime Tree Theatre; and renowned Hungarian scholar Dr Maria Kurdi will present an analysis of work by Marina Carr, Nancy Harris, Deirdre Kinahan and Elaine Murphy.

Irish playwright Conor McPherson is on a roll. His three-part RTÉ/BBC TV series Paula concluded on Thursday night; a superior thriller full of menace and weird, feminine energy. He is well into rehearsal with his new play, Girl from the North Country, for the Old Vic Theatre in London, which he is directing himself. This new play was created around, and incorporates, songs by Bob Dylan, and was written with the blessing of the Nobel Prize-winner. It seems the British theatre’s love affair with the new Irish play is in robust shape. Meanwhile back home, an original Irish play on the Irish stage has become a rarity.

The competition for the title of Cinderella of Irish Arts is usually between ballet and opera. It is frequently argued that each doesn’t get a fair shake of the bag when it comes to public funding. Well, one of the Cinderellas has just secured itself a golden carriage. Composer Donnacha Dennehy and director/librettist Enda Walsh have bagged the Fedora-Generali Prize worth €150,000 — a major European prize for new opera. Irish audiences will be the first to see The Second Violinist, starring Aaron Monaghan (inset), at the Galway Arts Festival next month.

Katy Hayes

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