Wednesday 21 August 2019

Big hair, big earrings and the birth of a new kind of father

The Snapper

Gate Theatre, Dublin  Until Aug 24

Simon Delaney and Hazel Clifford in The Snapper
Simon Delaney and Hazel Clifford in The Snapper

The Gate has revived last year's hit adaptation of 'The Snapper' for another summer outing. The birth trauma was experienced last year, so this second coming is likely to go the way of the first: good box-office performance and cheery playgoers emerging afterwards onto O'Connell Street.

Fathers in Irish plays and novels were for a long time terrible people, both repressed and repressing - think of Gar O'Donnell's plea "to hell with all strong silent men" in Brian Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come!

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Roddy Doyle's 1990 novel The Snapper is the story of 20-year-old Sharon Rabbitte giving birth to a baby and trying to conceal the embarrassing identity of its father. But the novel is also about the birth of a new type of man. Sharon's own father, Jimmy, is an old-school patriarch ready to defend his daughter's honour with his fists. But he grows to become a new man, educating himself about women's bodies. The 1980s, for all its repressions, was the decade when this tectonic shift occurred in life, and it was brilliantly captured in literature by Doyle. Typically with Doyle, this slice of enlightenment was delivered with lashings of humour.

Róisín McBrinn's direction is a triumph; between herself and Doyle's adaptation, they smoothly iron out the episodic nature of the story. Eighties numbers from Madness, Chrissie Hynde and Whitney Houston keep the tempo up. Sharon's girlfriends, with their big hair, big earrings and big personalities, absolutely capture the emergence of a bolder young woman at the time. The invisible dog is a great touch.

The show is also a fine depiction of the delightful chaos of family life. Kids, dogs, bikes fly on and off. Simon Delaney is starry as Jimmy. But the show is angled towards Hazel Clifford as Sharon, whose performance is outstanding. Alannah Prendergast and Emer Ryan, who performed the ballroom dancing little sisters on opening night, were a highlight. Simon O'Gorman does a terrific job of capturing the delusional self-regard of George Burgess, typical of a certain type of predatory male.

Paul Wills' delightful set is a patchwork concoction of posters, wallpapers and textiles, with screens effectively deployed with 1980s TV programmes and street signs. Different rooms in the house are wheeled about on coasters. Other rooms emerge from behind panels.

This is a great evening's entertainment; Sharon finally gets her bundle of joy, and the audience has had a barrel of laughs.


A sobering glimpse behind closed doors


The New Theatre, Dublin Until July 22

Katy Hayes

A mother battles to protect her high-functioning autistic son during a police enquiry following his hacking of Chinese government data systems. But then she finds he is accused of something worse.

Elizabeth Moynihan's new play presents, with unstinting emotional brutality, the challenges this mother faces. Donna Dent makes a welcome return to the stage after a five-year absence. She delivers a touching performance of pure drama, half-heartedly trying to live her own life while fiercely protecting her grown man-cub.

Emerging talent Rex Ryan has gone from strength to strength over the past year; here he turns in a subtle performance of great depth as the son, Joe. Emily Foran, directing for Idir Mná and The New Theatre, steers nimbly through the emotional intensities of the script, carefully handling the mother's self-sacrifice. Bill Woodland's sound design journeys from pleasing melody in the early scenes to thumping trauma later on, retaining a complex subtlety throughout.

The play is full of excellent ideas, but it needed another think in terms of shape. Joe is accused of a second criminal event, which follows uneasily after the first. But the 70-minute show is well worth seeing for two super performances, and a sobering glimpse behind closed doors.

Katy Hayes

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