Saturday 18 November 2017

Fertile ground for drama

  • The Good Father, Viking Theatre, until November 11
The Good Father
The Good Father

Katy Hayes

Christian O'Reilly's play, which had its first outing as a Druid Debut in 2002, has aged well. Much new theatre work foregrounds abstractions of one sort or another, whereas this play holds at its centre a clarity of dramatic intent and thus shines like a beacon of old-fashioned dramaturgy.

An emotional two-hander, it couldn't be in a better venue than the lovely Viking Theatre in Dublin's Clontarf, located in an intimate space above a pub. Jane is an unlikeable snob, a self-centred law graduate. She is clever, but cold and on the rebound from an eight-year relationship which has just collapsed in a humiliating way. While out-of-her-mind drunk at a New Year's Eve party, she meets Tim and propositions him for sex. Tim is a painter and decorator who has been hired by her friend to paint the kitchen. The class divide is stark. A month later, she asks him to meet her. She's pregnant.

The play is a dialogue-focused slice of realism and an astute choice for Rise Productions. Director Angus Óg McAnally catches the shape of the drama perfectly, steering the performances with good judgment. The staging is simple, very few props, just a little ambient noise to suggest seasides and restaurants. It is essentially down to the actors and the script to carry the evening. Liam Heslin touches great depths in his portrait of Tim, but also hits all the humorous notes. Rachel O'Byrne has a striking stage presence and impresses as Jane, with her haughty complexity. Both performances are first-rate.

The situation is pretty ordinary and recognisable. There are discussions like this about unplanned pregnancies happening all over the country. But what distinguishes this is the focus on the man's feelings. Amongst the oceans of writing we have on women and motherhood, this tender play about a man's fear of infertility and desire for fatherhood still feels original. It makes an interesting contrast with the recent production of King of the Castle by Eugene McCabe, where the man's emotional response to infertility is smothered in layers of machismo. Here the male is exposed and raw.

Class looms large as a theme. Jane and Tim's romance is unlikely, as they practically speak different languages. But their status alters during the play. Jane is not truly as confident as she originally appears, and Tim has sturdy emotional layers underneath a self-deprecating exterior. His single mum has left him emotionally secure, while Jane's middle-class parents have damaged her with their expectations.

O'Reilly has a number of significant screenwriting credits, including Sanctuary (2017) and he wrote the story for Inside I'm Dancing (2004). Both these films deal entertainingly with themes of disability and ability. It's a testament to his own ability that The Good Father is being revived again. He is a writer with a moral vision and a tremendous knack for humour, coupled with great technical skill. This is a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.

To book

1  DUBLINERS

Clayton Whites Hotel, Wexford,  Oct 29 & Nov 1

A new chamber opera, composed by Andrew Synnott with libretto by Arthur Riordan based on James Joyce’s short stories ‘Counterparts’ and ‘The Boarding House’. For piano, string quartet and six voices.

2 POE SHOW

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin,  Until Nov 4

A lunchtime celebration of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, devised and directed by Michael James Ford, gets a seasonal revival. It includes an adaptation of Poe’s enduring story about murder and guilt, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’.

3 THIS IS THE FUNERAL OF YOUR LIFE

Project, Dublin,  Nov 3 – 11

This show facilitates your funeral in real time, with the aid of an actor, a dancer and a mezzo-soprano. Created and directed by Louise White, we are promised a ceremony full of dark fun.

Stage whispers ...

The Bram Stoker Festival, a seasonal ghoul-fest, runs for the next few days in and around Dublin. Because the Dracula story is so international, it’s easy to forget that the myth was first turned into popular fiction in 1897 by a Dubliner from Clontarf.

A highlight of this year’s festival is the world première of Whitby, a theatrical show created and directed by Joan Sheehy and featuring dance artist Colin Dunne (pictured inset).

It is based on the captain’s log part of Stoker’s novel as Count Dracula is sailing to England into the port of Whitby. Mysteriously, crew members are disappearing. Other cast members are Martha Dunlea and Patrick Ryan. The show runs in The Boys’ School in Smock Alley Theatre until October 30.

Playwright Brian Friel’s work and reputation continue to thrive after his death. His great play Translations (1980), about a classically trained hedge schoolmaster and set in pre-famine Ireland, has at its centre a doomed love affair between an English soldier and an Irish girl. The love affair between British theatre and Irish playwriting is less doomed, however, and Translations is getting a revival next May at the Royal National Theatre in London. So this week British director Ian Rickson and designer Rae Smith were spotted scouting around the hills and valleys of Co Donegal seeking visual inspiration for their coming production.

More doomed lovers appear as Ballet Ireland kicks off its tour of Romeo & Juliet at Draíocht, Blanchardstown, on November 3. Choreographed by Morgann Runacre-Temple, Shakespeare’s tragic tale with Prokofiev’s music is set in a contemporary high school, where the story finds echoes and parallels amongst teenage gang fights. The 24-venue all-Ireland tour pirouettes its way from Coleraine to Cork and from Longford to Limerick. It winds up in the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, on December 23. The tour includes four days in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, the prettiest theatre on the island.

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