Tuesday 19 February 2019

Flann O'Brien shorts badly in need of a little direction

Thirst (and other bits of Flann) Peacock Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Flann about town: Marty Rea and Garret Lombard
Flann about town: Marty Rea and Garret Lombard

Katy Hayes

Gather together four of Ireland's best actors and give them witty passages written by comic genius Flann O'Brien - what could go wrong? Everything, as it happens.

Most of the Peacock Theatre seats are removed and 20 circular bar tables are placed in their stead, to create the illusion of a pub. Taking out the seats is the new cliché in Dublin theatre, ensuring that if the audience is not diverted by the show in front of them, they get to concentrate on their own discomfort.

No director or designer is credited on Thirst, though Ciara Fleming provides neat, tweedy, period costumes. The text is made up of the titular short play, originally commissioned by the Gate Theatre for its Christmas season in 1942, and boosted to a 60-minute show by excerpts from O'Brien's prose and novels. Marty Rea kicks off as the sergeant in the familiar bicycle-molecule comic set piece from The Dalkey Archive. Rea struggles to find a comedic core for this surreal character.

Rory Nolan appears next, and does better as the pub crawler from Drink and Time in Dublin, whose drunken stupors leave him delightfully bewildered as to what day it is. Next is Aaron Monaghan, with a preposterous yarn from The Trade; the gifted Monaghan appears simply to be taking a rest here after his recent exertions in Richard III. And finally, Garrett Lombard is centre stage in the play Thirst, where Rea as the sergeant has stumbled on an after-hours drinking session in a candlelit pub. Lombard as barman Coulihan describes serving in the desert in World War I in the boiling, thirst-inducing heat. This ­Mesopotamia sequence had the potential to be a searing piece of war satire, but with no director, it is played for broadness, without the slightest effort at depth.

This is a shabby show for a national theatre and an abandonment of ­aspiration. The track record of the cast, and the writer's brilliance, made it an inviting prospect over the Christmas season, so the disappointment was immense. Agro Grimace is a collective name for the four actors, who all feature in the Druid ensemble.

Here we are reminded of the crucial role of directors in harnessing a coherent vision, and in particular in finding depth and meaning in texts. Actors and managers who think a director is superfluous are deluding themselves. What this needed was a lash of Garry Hynes's directorial rigour.

It's a mystery why this was presented by the Abbey Theatre. Hard to see why it wasn't just put on by the actors in an actual pub.

 

A McSavage take on Irish life

The wonderful Dripping Tap of My Inevitable Doom Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Dublin (playing dublin's Olympia on February 8)

David McSavage uses the snug space of the Viking Theatre for his oddball stand-up routine to fine effect, interacting with the audience and expertly surfing the intimate energy. His show is full of clever satirical songs, ­observational humour, and anecdotes from life. Possibly his own life, though you can't be sure.

George Clooney asks him "is he based in Dublin?" "I'm stuck in Dublin," he answers. Meandering in style, consulting a notebook and a tablet for new material as he goes, his routines include: a Donegal person so bored that they wish the Troubles would come to town; and a 12-year-old boy who likes to sexually assault priests.

He belongs to the same generation and sensibility as Martin McDonagh, with his anti-cuddly attitude and scattering of snubs to political correctness. Christy Moore and Daniel O'Donnell both get a decent lampooning, as well as the Abbey Theatre and the Irish play.

The best material is when 52-year-old McSavage deals with his own ageing. When he looks into a young woman's eyes now, she is not interested in him sexually anymore and he sees his own death. He trades in being outrageous to others but is at his funniest when he turns both barrels on himself.

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