Review: John B's 'The Field' has stood the test of time
Published 29/04/2015 | 02:30
It's good to see the sexist jokes are still working. The worry was that on this the 50th anniversary production of John B Keane's 1965 classic, creaky humour would have rusted away.
Fear not. Uproarious laughter to the comparison of women to bullocks, and raunchy comments on Maimie Flanagan: "she's a right flier that woman".
It works, because Fiona Bell's Maimie has the ballast to handle the sexism. She laughs off the compliment and amuses with her foul-mouthed retorts.
Her strong female lead is so badly needed in a room choked with testosterone and shenanigans.
The Field is really a strange play, opening with a remarkably boring financial negotiation over land, followed by - drum roll! - an auction. Men's squabbling and swilling takes up the first half.
Though the real trigger of this famous murder plot lies in a woman's future - a parcel of land owned by Maggie Butler, the lone widow (Catherine Byrne).The land is up for public auction and The Bull, as a native who has grazed cattle there, feels entitled to it. A higher bidder appears, murder is committed.
Setting the play in a dusty pub, director Padraic McIntyre has created a world that hasn't budged for 50 years. The rank growths bristling from the roof enrich the feeling of a society in decline.
The Bull McCabe is played well by Michael Harding. As well as sprouting a frightening beard, Harding has affected a speech impediment making him muffled, through the actor's crackly Cavan tongue. He seems pathetic as he wields his little ash plant-cum-murderous weapon.
Harding is an unconvincing villain. But he gives the iconic Bull a vulnerability that shifts the menace on to others. It is after all the Bull's son Tadhg (Love/Hate's Ian Lloyd Anderson) who delivers the fatal blow. The Bull, his hit-man son Tadhg and accomplice, The Bird (a scene-stealing Mark O'Regan) make a menacing trio.
This is an understated production. A brutal murder scene is given scarcely more drama than a set change of smoky darkness.
When the bishop delivers his "appeal" to trace the murderer, his spitting ire seems misdirected. With his head glowing neon pink, this sermon on a corrupt society becomes ridiculous. Unless, that is, the urbanite audience in The Gaiety were "prepared to kill for land". Hopefully not.