A journey back in time with Love á la Mode, Smock Alley Theatre
Review: Love á la Mode, Smock Alley Theatre
The 18th century was a thrilling place theatrically. Charles Macklin, originally Cathal MacLochlainn from Donegal, became an actor during the 1720s and subsequently a writer, making a brilliant career for himself in London and Dublin. Smock Alley Theatre, with its own historical ambience, provides a perfect setting for a revival of this Macklin-penned romp. It was originally presented as an after-play to William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Macklin, as an actor, was a famous interpreter of the part of Shylock. In its original shape, the play is just 30 pages, about an hour long; having sat through three hours of Shakespeare, the audience happily returned for an hour of extra fun.
Felicity Productions have elongated it with a prelude and some rap songs. The story is about Charlotte (Caitlin Scott), an heiress of low birth but high fortune. She is in the market for a husband, and market is the operative word. There are four potential suitors: a Scot, Sir Archy MacSarcasm (Colm Lennon); Mordecai, a dandy (Fionnuala Gygax); a horse-enthusiast Squire Groom (Honi Cooke); and an Irishman, Sir Callaghan O'Brallaghan (Stephen O'Leary). Word circulates that Charlotte's fortune has been lost at sea, and then it becomes clear what the suitors are really made of; a spin on the suitors and caskets plot device in The Merchant of Venice.
This is broad comedy, full of cheerful bawdiness. Director Colm Summers attacks the script with a contemporary ironic knowingness, poking fun at theatrical mannerisms, including physical posing and verbal affectations. Smart updating decisions are made: the actor playing Sir Callaghan is presented as an understudy, who carries the script in hand, and creates plenty of opportunity for ad libs and a general dismantling of formality. Áine O'Hara's set design includes a striking floor covering with key theatrical words scattered about.
Plays from the 17th and 18th century have a lot of scope for contemporary re-invention; early Rough Magic, with Declan Hughes' version of George Farquhar's work, comes to mind. They suit inventive young casts and creatives, and the corsets generally provide more support than constriction. Gygax's performance as the dandy is a comic tour-de-force. Lennon as MacSarcasm comes into his own during the rap songs. Strong performances from both Scott and O'Leary blossom particularly in the love scene, when the arch irony falls away and some magic theatrical tenderness is created.
First performed in 1759, and thus created long before the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800, Love á la Mode displays a confident Irish identity - the Irish Sir Callaghan, a dashing soldier, is the hero of the piece. For all its farcical cod-acting, the play presents a striking satirical spin on the various nations that will come to make up the United Kingdom. And 260 years later, these concerns are still the stuff of life, both on the stage and off.
BOOK IT NOW
1 THE SNAPPER
Gate Theatre until Sept 15
Roddy Doyle’s hit novel made a successful transition into a film. Now this northside story of Sharon and her unplanned snapper makes its way on to a northside stage in an adaptation by Doyle himself. Expect laughs.
Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, June 20 – July 7
Sharon (another one!) is pure sick of herself. A young woman moves back to her home town following a disastrous break-up/firing. Expectations clash with desires in this new play, written and directed by Katie Holly.
3 THE NUMBERED
Fitzgerald’s Park, Cork until June 30
What if we all knew at what age we were going to die? That is the intriguing premise of Elias Canetti’s play, presented in this offbeat location by Corcadorca Theatre Company as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.
Pacy thriller with strong performances
Review: The Harvest, The New Theatre
Jane McCarthy's new play opens in a low key with Charlotte (Melissa Nolan), a sheltered home-maker, and ex-con Shane (John Morton), having an awkward conversation in her fancy kitchen as she accepts his help bringing in the shopping. They both attend the same group-therapy session for former addicts and have formed a bond.
He got hooked on heroin while in prison. She became dependant on booze after the tragic death of her youngest child. Her husband, Malcolm (Marcus Lamb), is all bristling anger and bullying charmlessness - he carries tension with him at all times. A teenage son Evan (Fionn Foley), an aspiring writer who has a recurring nightmare of burying a dead body, completes the quartet.
Charlotte's goofy awkwardness covers pauses and strangeness. The friend Shane has an undisclosed aspect; there is something not quite right about him. Husband Malcolm is odd and overly controlling of his wife. There was a car accident that almost killed Evan when Charlotte was drunk-driving, which she is not allowed to forget.
A Pinteresque air of creeping dread pervades. The family cats keep disappearing into the woods and never coming back. Charlotte is earnest and good. The men are bad. So far, so domestic noir.
Director Matthew Ralli for The New Theatre steers the show expertly along with plenty of business, including a funny recurring motif of tea making. A full dinner is served and scoffed. Sandwiches get made with Hellman's mayonnaise and eaten. This is pure realism, with relish.
The show, while compelling, has the quintessential thriller flaw: it lacks nuance. All is too black and white, like the chequered pattern on the floor of Lisa Krugel's excellent design. But McCarthy's writing is witty and gives the actors plenty of scope. Scenes are built up elegantly and the story has a punchy pace. All four performances are first-rate: Lamb is powerful as the boorish husband; Nolan touching and funny as Charlotte; Foley is complicated as teenager Evan; and Morton has plenty of hidden depths as the small man, Shane.