Sunday 17 November 2019

'Mom' music and 1980s nostalgia with An Officer and a Gentleman

An Officer and a Gentleman
An Officer and a Gentleman

Katy Hayes

For women of a certain age, Richard Gere's film performances during the 1980s, including in An Officer and a Gentleman, will have provided the gold standard for romantic leads, a yardstick by which all other men would be forever measured. This new musical version of the 1982 film opened in the Leicester Curve in April, and Dublin is an early stop on its UK and Ireland tour. The show is a classic jukebox musical with a string of 1980s hits grafted on to the original screenplay story. The songs fit the scenarios in a surprisingly apt manner.

There are no subtleties here, just plain old character flaws, with their seeds in problematic family histories. Zack Mayo (Jonny Fines) attends officer training boot-camp in Florida to become a US Navy pilot. The recruits are warned that the local girls will do anything to snag a pilot - including getting pregnant - in order to escape Nowheresville for a life of travel and excitement as a pilot's wife.

Zack and his friend Sid (Ian McIntosh) romance a pair of factory girls, Paula (Emma Williams) and Lynette (Jessica Daley). Lynette is a gold-digger; Paula is an ambitious, self-improving, wannabe nurse. The gender politics are very 1980s, as is the doubling down on the denim.

Disco-diva songs, such as Debbie Harry's 'Heart of Glass', 'Material Girl' by Madonna and 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' by Cyndi Lauper, all provide high-tempo moments. This is the ultimate in 'mom music'.

In the second half, Paula's mum Esther (Rachel Stanley) and Aunt Bunny (Corinna Powlesland) come to the fore as characters and the target audience becomes very clear. Other 1980s hits like 'The Final Countdown' and 'Kids in America' provide versatile anthemic numbers for dancing and military set-pieces.

Direction by Nikolai Foster is impressive; set and costume by Michael Taylor incorporates back-wall projection with large military/industrial structural shapes to provide variety of height and platforms. Choreography by Kate Prince is movement-focused rather than virtuoso dance, but highly effective. Actor Ray Shell does a terrific job as Foley, the drill-sergeant bully with a heart of gold.

There was a peculiar post-referendum moment on Tuesday's opening night when Lynette declares she's a Catholic and so cannot have an abortion. The female-dominated audience whooped and clapped. Perhaps at the irony? Musical audiences tend to get very giddy. It was a reminder that the 1980s wasn't all about double-denim and big-voiced divas.

Most people are familiar with the film's ultra-romantic ending, when the newly commissioned pilot gets his girl, accompanied by the soaring Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes musical number 'Up Where We Belong'. The audience lapped it all up: big hair, big emotion, big applause.



Bewley’s Café Theatre June 4 — 16

Galway actress Tara Breathnach performs an adaptation of the final soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. The character of Molly was inspired by Joyce’s Galway-born wife, Nora. Directed by Petal Pilley.


Bord Gáis Energy Theatre June 4 — 9

Music and lyrics by Sting, and inspired by his own upbringing in a declining shipbuilding community in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, this was a return to song-writing for the Police frontman after a period of writer’s block.


Pavilion Theatre,  June 6 & 7

Writer/actor Seamus O’Rourke’s two plays, which speak of a fast-disappearing rural Ireland, have plenty of heart and laughs. Arthur Riordan also features.


Whistleblower drama runs out of steam

Review: The Rose of Jericho, Theatre Upstairs, until June 9

This anti-war monologue describes one man's journey from Ireland into the British army and then onto the killing fields of Kosovo and Iraq. Having passed through these furnaces, the soldier experiences a crisis about the army and his role in it, leading to a profound moral re-evaluation.

Danny grows up in Ireland with a violent father and a meek mother who cannot protect him. He is a bewildered child who suffers from the lack of love in his environment. When he reaches adulthood, his tendency to resort to his fists gets out of control when he hits his partner.

Danny then joins the army and at first finds comfort in the discipline. But an encounter with the World War I poetry of Wilfred Owen awakens in him a crisis of conscience. A vivid dream turns a war memorial into a zombie-like horror show. When he returns to his comrades, things are no longer the same. They view him with suspicion and he starts leaking stories to journalists.

Danny then becomes an anti-war activist. The Rose of the title describes a desert plant that dries up and blows about like tumble-weed, appearing dead. But once it is hit by rain, it comes back to life and scatters seeds in a profuse flowering, a metaphor for Danny.

Produced by Theatre Ortas, Alex Martinez's play was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, and it feels at home having its Irish première in the cosy Theatre Upstairs.

Martinez's writing is vivid and Kevin Hely's highly impressive performance is full of passion. He is utterly convincing as a man struggling to express himself in ways other than violence.

But in the end, the writing runs out of steam. Plays of just under an hour, like short stories, need a good ending; this peters out into a half-hearted interrogation scene. The journey is terrific, the destination a little uncertain.

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