Review: Hilarious tribute to one of the greats
Theatre: God Bless the Child, GaietyTheatre, Dublin
This production is created out of three Frank O'Connor short stories: My Oedipus Complex, The Genius and First Confession.
The main characters of the stories narrate, all little scampy boys, and the adult actors Shane Casey, Gary Murphy and Ciaran Bermingham work to the max the disruptive energy of large men playing kids.
Adapted and directed by Patrick Talbot and presented by his own company, this is clearly a labour of love.
It has a delightful unpretentious feel, like the scrubbed floors of Jim Queally's schoolroom setting. The set is plain and true, nothing rotates or sparkles, we get an honest-to-God Sacred Heart picture, a Virgin Mary and a giant cross.
It slowly becomes clear that the white backdrop is a series of washing lines, strewn with bed sheets.
The show is shaped by the three man-child narrators coming into the schoolroom to tell their tales of comic woe in parallel episodes, much like a contemporary Irish monologue play. The stories are punctuated by school bells and funny prayer sessions. Minor characters like the parents, a priest and a variety of girls are filled out by the other two actors donning wigs and props in Brechtian style. All performances are good, but the standout is Gary Murphy as he manages to locate a profound trauma at the heart of The Genius.
Because Frank O'Connor's work has been so absorbed into our culture, the material has a familiar feel, and it is easy to forget what a major and innovative talent he was. All three stories are now Irish childhood classics, but to our national shame much of O'Connor's output was banned in Ireland during his life. The sex education in The Genius is still one of the funniest treatments of this subject ever written.
Full of modest and essential theatrical values, this show gets all the laughs, and is a highly entertaining tribute to one of Ireland's best ever writers.