Theatre review: The Shadow of a Gunman, Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Director Wayne Jordan provides a clever modern take in this revival of Sean O’Casey’s war-of-independence drama from 1923.
Wind-up yellow ducks along with Mel Mercier’s music, immediately strike a contemporary tone in the first scene. Set and costume design by Sarah Bacon have an unsettling feel. Some details are 1920s, others more modern. Tall clear ungridded windows have tenement proportions, but simultaneously evoke the plate glass of the contemporary. Deft use of the space outside the windows breaks the claustrophobia that often lingers over O’Casey’s indoor dramas.
These disruptive design elements pave the way for an offbeat interpretation of Donal Davoren. Mark O’Halloran gives us more poet than lover; his dalliance with Minnie seems a poetic flourish rather than an erotic one. The passion he displays is for his poetry; he takes the typewriter into his bed. Davoren’s rejection of the political is rooted in a self-absorbed regard for his art rather than genuine political antipathy, which gives him an utterly contemporary feel. By contrast, David Ganly plays Seumas Shields in fine traditional style; it seems like a man from the 1920s is rooming with a man from right now.
High theatrical energy is kept aloft by the colourful parade of O’Casey’s tenement dwellers, and equally the parade of O’Casey’s brilliant writing talent. There are wonderfully funny turns by Dan Gordon as the drink-sozzled Adolphus Grigson and Catherine Walsh as Mrs Henderson. Amy McAllister shines as Minnie Powell.
The final dramatic events pack a serious punch. O’Halloran is less the guilty lover we are accustomed to in Donal Davoren, and more the modern writer woken from his poetic solipsism by a calamity. Great depth and complexity are delivered, after much laughter.