Thursday 8 December 2016

Theatre: A case of famished drama

Emer O'Kelly

Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30

Plastic cut-out characters: A scene from Famished Castle starring Raymond Scannell and Aislin McGuckin
Plastic cut-out characters: A scene from Famished Castle starring Raymond Scannell and Aislin McGuckin
Sad insecurities: The powerful Port Authorithy stars Rex Ryan, Stephen Kelly and Dick Tobin

Lynne Parker, the director of Hilary Fannin's Famished Castle, believes the play to be "a very subtle piece." It has already had a short run in Waterford, and opened last week at the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire. Official opening night was Wednesday, but due to other commitments, I saw it on Tuesday. This meant that I followed my practice of making allowances for the fact that the performance was a preview, despite the Waterford run.

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Unfortunately there is absolutely no way in my experience and opinion, that Famished Castle could have been salvaged in the 24 hours between then and "official" opening, despite being described by the director as "a work in progress." It is abysmally constructed, its plot line and motivation are indiscernible, and its characters are plastic cut-outs. And that is making all possible allowances for all exigencies.

Fannin appears to have grabbed a couple of stereotypes from the boom years: a newly rich builder who's half-Italian and keeps stuffing wads of notes down his son's girlfriend's front, telling her to buy herself a dress. The bizarre details seem an attempt to create character, but nothing comes alive. The man's wife is a lush with a walk-in wardrobe (sigh!) who goes on sunshine holidays on her own and has a fling with a waiter even though she's dying of cancer. More detail without credibility.

They're book-ended at the start and end of the play by the son and putative daughter-in-law, who are invisible dramatically speaking, and remain merely vessels for long-winded, pointless dialogue. They have met unexpectedly 10 years after breaking up, and in the interim she has collected a husband and two children, and he has collected an economist girlfriend. Family commitments don't prevent her managing to have an immediate one-night stand with sonny boy, who has come home to see the da who now suffers from Alzheimer's.

The play ends with the old man muttering "no, no", during a visit (unexplained) to his nursing home from the ex-girlfriend. "No, no" indeed.

Sadly, no "additional elements" or "re-worked staging" as referred to by Lynne Parker about this Rough Magic production would be enough. Famished Castle needs to be re-written, re-imagined, re-configured, and re-staged….or perhaps even abandoned as something that should never have happened. Sorry!

* * *

Watching Conor McPherson's Port Authority it's hard to remember that he wasn't even 30 when he wrote it (2001); his understanding of the sad insecurities that shape anyone with the power to feel is quite extraordinary. In Port Authority he takes three quintessential Irish men, Kevin in his early 20s, Dermot in his 40s, and Joe in old age, and lets them tell the stories they have lived as they flowered and died emotionally on the north shores of Dublin Bay. That there is a kind of redemption for all three is neither sentimental, cloyingly "spiritual", nor even immediately recognisable. Life isn't tidy, and McPherson knows it.

Kevin has moved into his first flat, yearning after his cool female flatmate, whose eyes are fixed on her non-residential boy-friend. His journey takes him through the maelstrom of coke and booze and a very long physical walk before he finds a kind of freedom. And even that is (half shamingly), back at home with his parents.

Dermot, the self-deluding swaggerer with an eye on the main chance and social advancement, finds out the hard way that "rugger buggers" aren't all booze and bonhomie: they expect people to deliver the workplace goods. And a loyal wife may not be socially adept, but her overweight body can be a very comfortable resting place.

And old Joe, from his resting place in the nursing home, finds that romance may have seemed out of reach, but every life has its moments: the magic lies in recognising the moments as just that, but cherishing them all the same.

Port Authority has been revived as an in-house production at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf in Dublin, and the production too has its moments, although the playing of the older actors, Dick Tobin as Joe, and especially Stephen Kelly as Dermot, is far too large. Both actors need more internalised stillness, with Kelly needing to remember that Dermot's high-flying comedy has a deep tragedy attached. Rex Ryan is the undoubted success of the evening as the would-be cool Kevin, all balloon bravado just waiting for the prick of a pin.

Direction is by Peter Reid.

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