Wednesday 26 October 2016

Theatre: A fading country music star and her rotten family could introduce a new audience to the Abbey

Donegal, Abbey Theatre

Sophie Gorman

Published 14/10/2016 | 10:52

Siobhan McCarthy as Irene Day and Killian Donnelly as Jackie Day in the premiere of Donegal at the Abbey Theatre
Siobhan McCarthy as Irene Day and Killian Donnelly as Jackie Day in the premiere of Donegal at the Abbey Theatre

Families do not get much more cruelly dysfunctional than the all-singing and all-maligning Day family.

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Miss Irene Day, a fading country music star, is the younger matriarch of this rotting and most rotten family. But her even more vitriolic mother Magdalene still wields considerable power despite being confined to a wheelchair.

This extended family is in a crisis even more severe than their complete lack of empathy. Everyone has been eking a living from Irene’s singing success, but her now dwindling career means that they are in danger of losing the family restaurant and bar. Can they be saved by the return of her prodigal son, Jackie, a big singing star in America?

There are serious issues at the heart of this new play by Frank McGuinness, his ode to his wild west homeplace of Donegal. Ageing, loneliness, absence of love, the psychological extremes that financial crisis can drive you to. All are touched on but none are convincingly explored, they are used instead as vitriolic arrows of abuse to hurl at each other.

Riddled with clichés and melodrama, it feels as if setting up for a particularly vicious reality television show. Here, everyone is callous and cruel, and there is scant hope of any redemption. Only one character shows signs of self-awareness but it is too little too late.Crucially, there is no real attempt to even begin a plot that could then be resolved, there is nothing for us to invest in. Instead we spend almost three hours dealing with character exposition and assassination.

But there can be no denying the very high calibre of Kevin Doherty’s music, the wonderful band and the singing of the very talented and underused cast. And, whilst it is hard to recommend this to fans of theatre, it would be of interest to fans of country music and could introduce a new audience to the Abbey.

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