Thursday 18 January 2018

John B Keane's play Moll is pretty heavy on the ham

A dress rehearsal for John B. Keane's play, Moll
A dress rehearsal for John B. Keane's play, Moll

Emer O'Kelly

WHEN John B. Keane wrote Moll in 1971, it was loved by amateur drama groups around the country where it became a staple. It was also loved by audiences, but less well-received critically because critics took Keane's work very seriously, giving the Listowel writer credit for the mythic grandeur of his tragedies of loneliness and emotional loss, a body of work that began with Sive and went on to include Sharon's Grave, The Year of the Hiker, The Field and The Highest House on the Mountain among others. Moll seemed a very slight achievement beside them.

But 45 years later, its farcical comedy overlaid with mild satire makes it a period piece from another world, quaint enough to work as pure escapism. But for that to succeed, it needs, like all comedy, to be played straight. And in the Gaiety Theatre/Verdant production (at the Gaiety in Dublin), director David Horan seems to have made a conscious decision to overplay the piece for all it's worth. It's so hammed up that one feels it has to be deliberate that the cast seem in danger of levitation. And that includes even the seriously talented Clare Barrett as the eponymous Moll, the slyly canny priests' housekeeper who takes over the parish and the parish priest, to the advantage of pretty nearly everyone, especially herself, and puts it into the financial black by means of incessant bingo sessions.

Damian Kearney as the gluttonous curate Father Brest, who thinks of nothing but his stomach, starts so high that he ends up almost having apoplexy by the end of Act One, leaving the performance with nowhere to go. Patrick McDonnell as fellow curate Father Loran is so camp, he seems to be about to sprout fairy wings, and although Des Keogh as the ageing parish priest turns in a credible performance, Frank Kelly as the Bishop seems intent on posturing in a kind of stage defiance of his 'Father Jack' persona. Mary McEvoy, in fairness, makes a very good fist of the cameo role of Bridgie Andover.

The excellent set and costumes are by Maree Kearns, and lighting and sound are by Kevin Smith and Philip Stewart respectively.


EMOTIONALLY, it's heart-warming, and even wise at times. Technically, it's quite seriously impressive; for two actors who aren't trained dancers to play a piece which involves fairly energetic dancing for a full hour without showing signs of a puff, is admirable.

It's Swing, a one-act play written by Steve Blount, Peter Daly and Gavin Kostick, and it has a well-deserved slot in the Dublin Dance Festival, playing at the Peacock.

May and Joe meet at Swing dance classes; neither of them is there primarily for the dancing. He's re-energising his life after redundancy, a broken marriage and a new start as a botany student; he's 50, but still hopeful. She's looking for a way to fill the time while her boyfriend is away for three months, she's nearly 40, and not quite so hopeful; the classes are a way to keep her doubts at bay about the whole relationship.

They dance their way through the academic year, observing and admiring/bitching about their fellow classmates. And at the end of it all, they've learned more than dancing.

Janet Moran and Steve Blount play delightfully together, even if their donning of the other characters' personae doesn't always come off. They have charm and empathy, and inter-connect perfectly under Peter Daly's direction.

Swing is a Fishamble production, and begins a nationwide tour at Bewley's lunchtime in Dublin until June 21, playing evening performances at 18 venues around the country, finishing in Wexford Arts Centre from July 24 to 26.

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