Monday 24 July 2017

Theatre: Political games - and how to win them

* The Successful TD, Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
* Autumn Royal, Project, Dublin

Jon Kenny and Mary McEvoy in JB Keane's 'The Successful TD'
Jon Kenny and Mary McEvoy in JB Keane's 'The Successful TD'
Shane Casey and Siobhan McSweeney in Kevin Barry's 'Autumn Royal'

Emer O'Kelly

Fifty years on, John B Keane's view of politics is still real.

How did John B Keane get away with it? That's the question which immediately springs to mind while watching a new adaptation for the stage (at the Gaiety in Dublin) of two of his most successful books, Letters of a Successful TD and Letters of an Irish Minister of State.

In all probability it was because John B wrote comedy - nobody ever believes you mean it. But John B did mean it. He meant every vicious, cruel, accurate, mocking portrait; every barely-disguised pen picture of a real person; and every nasty, corrupt, self-serving scenario. Because they made him angry.

He was in religious hot water on more than one occasion, but he was never sued. It was only his realistic portrayal of the ugliness of rural Irish marriage that got him into trouble with the clergy, in a time when the fantasy was that every Catholic Irish marriage was wholesome and fulfilled, with the cradle coming into use every 18 months at the very least.

The portrayals of political corruption were greeted as highly amusing, and with nudges of recognition. After all, corruption wasn't illegal - it was part of what we were, and wouldn't we all do it if we had the chance? His characters were "right whores" (just like the ones they were modelled on)… this uttered in admiring tones.

In the half-century since John B Keane wrote the two books, has anything changed? Now there's something to make an audience, and everyone else in the country, laugh out loud. (Except that now it's called LOL.)

The City Theatre production brings together director Michael Scott and actors Jon Kenny and Mary McEvoy. The three collaborated on the adaptation, and if it's a bit in-your-face at times, it's also terrifying in its topicality and modernity - same old, same old - with not a principle in sight, or a tither of loyalty to anything save self and the odd blood relation, the latter expressed in shameless preferment and pay-offs.

At one stage Tull McAdoo, the titular successful TD, confides that his mother only gave him one piece of advice in his life: "Never forget the people who put you in can put you out," so look after your own. Now where have we heard that in our own time?

And if most of Tull's relations, the beneficiaries of his munificence (paid for by the taxpayer), are a cross between slobs, layabouts, and thugs, his beloved daughter Kate is daddy's girl, with less excuse: she's bright and educated. But she's an unprincipled blackmailer in her father's interest.

You think John B is just for laughs? Think again.

*******

May and Timmy long for escape from their humdrum lives. Except there's himself up in the bed. It's the age-old conflict between legitimate selfishness and loving guilt. Kevin Barry's play Autumn Royal takes the well-worn theme of family responsibility and gives it an entertainingly quizzical twist.

A brother and sister (firmly placed in Cork) are approaching 40. Their mother abandoned them years ago; their father is more or less bed-ridden and requires fulltime care. That's a fact, not a selfish delusion, though Timmy fantasises in sad detail about life in Australia with a sun-kissed wife and two perfect children, and May just fantasies about freedom... ominously perhaps, freedom to take to pills and/or kill herself should circumstances so dictate.

So they find a place for their father in a home called Autumn Royal, ensuring the house is no longer dominated by the endless struggle against the messiness of old age. But in this mental straitjacket of unlived lives, fantasy can never become reality - so when Dad "escapes" and puts them publicly to shame, they can retreat with a certain amount of relief into contented discontent once again.

It could be a predictable bore, but Barry does a fine job with dialogue, and designer Deirdre Dwyer extends the fantasy into a dream world dominated by a bank of washing machines which spew out the detritus of living as required. Allied to sharp direction by Caitriona McLaughlin and beautifully tuned performances from Siobhan McSweeney and Shane Casey, Autumn Royal is a sadly comic and quirky look at a perennial problem.

It's an Everyman production at Project in Dublin, touring to The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon.

*******

The Galway Arts Festival/Landmark production of Enda Walsh's Arlington: A Love Story opens in the Abbey this coming week. It's the first full production under the new dual artistic directorship's policy of bringing proven successes from other stages into the national theatre.

And they could hardly have chosen better. Arlington is contemporary, intelligent, and moving, as well as being dramatically challenging. Cut to its essentials, the play is about totalitarianism and the survival of the human spirit under duress and isolation.

It's about to go to New York, and is not to be missed, not least for quiveringly sensitive performances from Charlie Murphy and Hugh O'Conor as the young lovers, and Oona Doherty in a stunning suicide dance sequence.

Sunday Indo Living

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment