Friday 20 September 2019

Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life, Viking Theatre, Clontarf: Portrait of the doyenne of Irish TV writing

Until Sept 14

Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life
Maura Laverty - This Was Your Life

Katy Hayes

Writer Maura Laverty's life is a fascinating tale of talent and tenacity; she is brought back to life in this charming play full of detail, wit and tragedy.

The play mimics the form of the old BBC TV biographical show hosted by Eamonn Andrews called This is Your Life. In this case, a forgotten celebrity is dug up and taken through their life story in front of a live audience (us) with plenty of internet commentary and Twitter interaction.

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This televisual, light-entertainment shape is an ingenious solution to the problem of covering the biography of someone about whom little is known. Writers Bairbre Ní Chaoimh and Yvonne Quinn skilfully knit much psychological subtlety into this schematic shape.

Ní Chaoimh herself plays Laverty. She appears, fresh from Glasnevin Cemetery, in a silk Sybil Connolly influenced dress by designer Peter O'Brien. The host, Rip Reilly (Patrick Ryan), guides her through her life. Laverty began her career as a self-taught writer and journalist, working from the 1930s through to the 1950s. We get snippets of her agony aunt radio show and accounts of how her novels were banned.

A section deals with her triumphant playwriting career at the Gate Theatre, and finally her success in getting Tolka Row produced as a serial drama on RTÉ. Her husband left and she struggled all her life to support three children from her writing. Laverty was the original female multitasker and Ní Chaoimh cooks a Spanish omelette live as the show progresses.

There are many highlights, including herself and Orson Welles singing 'The Internationale' out the window of the Gate Theatre green room. There is tragedy, too. The harsh presence of Laverty's mother was a scourge on her psyche as the daughter spent much energy trying to impress a woman who will never be impressed.

Set designer Naomi Faughan uses classic 1960s visual references to create a charming vintage-vibe TV studio. Director Joan Sheehy carefully maintains pace with plenty of showman brio from Ryan, and depth from Ní Chaoimh. I saw a preview and the performances still had some uncertainty, but the show was hugely enjoyable nonetheless.

For those who remember Tolka Row, this will give them an insight into the manically hard-working and clever mind that produced the play and TV series. For younger audiences, this is a fascinating picture of how a strong woman refused to play nice in the restrictive post-war decades, and worked her way bang into the centre of Irish cultural life. Her ghost will be well pleased.

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