Tuesday 22 October 2019

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Bansha...

Hammer's House of Horror is brought up to date in a new play, writes Emer O'Kelly


Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin

And Thank You

Viking Theatre Clontarf, Dublin

Joan Sheehy, Maeve Fitzgerald, and Michael J Ford in 'Wringer'
Joan Sheehy, Maeve Fitzgerald, and Michael J Ford in 'Wringer'
Seamus O'Rourke in his one-hander 'And Thank You'

It wouldn't be October without a spooky play in at least one theatre in the capital city. And this year the play is Wringer, by Stewart Roche, and the theatre is Bewley's.

And Roche manages to tick a lot of boxes with a lot more than competence; Wringer ends nicely unresolved, which helps it to remain in your head; as its storyline unfolds a sharp edge of topicality emerges; and you can believe in both the characters and the situation. Not bad at all for a piece heavily influenced by Hammer Horror which, however entertaining it was, seldom managed a lot of credibility.

Elsa is a blogger, mostly on the topic of horror movies. She has arrived late "in the middle of nowhere" (somewhere outside Bansha, Co Tipperary) to interview ex horror movie star Jonathan Ravencliffe in his impressively suitable country house run impeccably by his housekeeper/ secretary Mrs Newman.

The interview starts predictably enough, with Elsa dazzled to be in the presence of someone who appears to be her idol. And there's a lot of comically predictable foreplay with impressively vintage wine and sinister references to pieces missing from the past of smooth Mr Ravencliffe.

But then Roche gets real: the play posits a truly sinister element with a very real horror with which we are sadly all too familiar: the abuse of power by famous people and their predatory sexual manipulation of (usually very young) women, and sometimes, sickeningly, children. This is nasty stuff, very well constructed, and given a very good level of disgust and fear as well as panic and the drive to self-preservation by those with unpleasant pasts, particularly in the entertainment business.

The line-up and production values are impressive - with Maeve Fitzgerald as Elsa, the nemesis of the piece who uncovers more than she bargains for; Michael James Ford as the ever-so-but not-quite smooth Jonathan Ravencliffe; and Joan Sheehy as the stubbornly loyal Mrs Newman.

They're splendidly directed by Aoife Spillane-Hicks, who co-produces with Roche. Naomi Faughnan's set is most impressive given the space limitations, and it's lit by Colm Maher, while sound is designed by Mark Hendrick.

Wringer is a Halloween good 'un.


It all sounds very easy, and not too upsetting. That's the problem with And Thank You, Seamus O'Rourke's new one-man play, a Big Guerilla (sic) production at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf. One suspects it may have been written for a full cast as so many characters (in both senses of the word) are brought into it, but nonetheless it works on certain levels as a monologue.

It's about alcoholism, faith and redemption. Heavy stuff. The "faith" bit comes from the first narrator, a self-styled preacher from a Traveller family who feels "called" when he arrives in a small Irish town. He senses the pain and the need.

For the rest, we have the O'Sullivan family: father "king", named because he's king of the pub, and sons Larry O and Martin, who run the family general store. The alcoholic King is a bit ungracious and surly, but never hits anyone, doesn't deny his wife, and doesn't wreck the business (in fact he's the driving force). And the lame Martin is quite happy when brother Larry O gets the girl he fancies himself.

So it doesn't really come across that there's all that much need for redemption, which also happens with surprisingly sudden ease: one act of malicious unkindness by the old man sets him on the path to righteousness and renewed contentment in marriage. And the Traveller preacher celebrates the marriage between Larry O and his Teresa. But even when Martin runs over and kills her Pomeranian puppy (by accident, of course, no nastiness involved) there isn't much sign of anguish.

It's all a bit superficial; it's also very, very old-fashioned (although in a harmless kind of way) and O'Rourke does a competent job under Charles McGuinness's direction.

Sunday Independent

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