Sunday 21 January 2018

Postcards from the Ledge: Dublin's characters let loose upon the world

  • Postcards From The Ledge, Gaiety Theatre Dublin
  • Bat the Father Rabbit the Son, New Theatre Dublin
Rory Nolan in Postcards From The Ledge
Rory Nolan in Postcards From The Ledge
Donal O'Kelly in Bat the Father Rabbit the Son

Emer O'Kelly

A good theatre week with comic and tragic lost souls.

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly is thriving as defiantly as is his creator Paul Howard. And in the current climate, it's probably in order to wonder why they haven't jointly been torn limb from limb by a baying mob of mouth-frothing social media killer-hounds.

That they haven't may actually mean that a sense of sexual humour has not entirely disappeared from Irish life, and that such a sense of humour isn't regarded as a capital crime.

In his latest stage outing the Rosser is inhabiting a time 12 years hence, on the day his monstrous daughter Honor is about to get married. She has blossomed into a talented musician, playing piano with the National Concert Orchestra, and her fiance is the orchestra conductor Greg - who happens to be a 54-year-old bald widower with digestive problems and false teeth. Revenge is required, and is carried out by Ross at the engagement party by a quickie roger-ing of Greg's daughter in the instrument room backstage. (Not a spoiler alert: Ross, as usual, has got things wrong.)

But that an audience can howl with unrestrained laughter at the notion of the former schools captain from Castlerock engaging in gratuitous meaningless extra-marital revenge sex might be considered a relief of enormous proportion in a world where men will shortly be forced to live celibate unless a woman actually headbutts them into sexual submission. Otherwise, a flirtatious grin and they run the risk of being accused of sexual harassment…

Postcards from the Ledge… presumably short for "legend" (ie, Ross himself, rather than the window ledge), is the first one-man Ross O'Carroll-Kelly play. And play it is, not merely a stand-up act. This is thanks to Howard's genius for genuine satire, his grasp of the combination of belly-laughs with sly wit; and of course, the incomparable performance of Rory Nolan, who has made the master boor of south Dublin one of the most-loved characters to cross an Irish stage for many years.

Overall, it takes the form of a not-so-nostalgic look back at his life, as Ross surveys the now derelict 22 Glenageary Crescent (actually Sallynoggin) his childhood home, as he plans to market it on behalf of estate agents Hook, Lyon and Sinker.

And from earlier plays, we have the voices of Laurence Kinlan as Ronan, Philip O'Sullivan as Charles, Lisa Lambe as Sorcha, and Caoimhe O'Malley as Honor, all at the other end of Ross's iPhone.

It's almost possible to feel the relish with which director Jimmy Fay approaches this Landmark production at the Gaiety, designed (mischievously) by Grace Smart, lit by Paul Keogan, with sound by Carl Kennedy.

Just think: next time it'll presumably be the next generation with Honor's baby. Be afraid; be very afraid.

*******

It's as surreal as it is almost frighteningly apposite. Thirty years on, Donal O'Kelly's massive 1988 hit Bat the Father Rabbit the Son (originally directed by Declan Hughes for Rough Magic) is having a revival at the New Theatre in Dublin, and it's still a nightmarish morality tale. O'Kelly, that most political of playwright- actors, has undoubtedly hardened his agit-prop attitudes in the intervening years, to his theatrical detriment, I would suggest.

But this early piece remains a sobering, funny, touching and frightening marvel as it takes on national crudity, greed, and contempt for all the graces of living.

Rabbit the Son is a multi-millionaire haulage contractor, rough at more than the edges, and deeply resentful of the apparent suavity of the Michael Smurfits and Tony O'Reillys of the 1980s world.

In an attempt to anchor some stability in his life (a mental green glass buoy), in other words, recover his soul, he harangues his underling Keogh in a (probably imaginary) trip around Dublin Bay and up the River Liffey, an almost-Finnegans Wake undertaking.

But once soul starts to peep through, so does the reality of the past, in the person of Bat, Rabbit's father. Far from millions, the little man was a Citizen's Army soldier, and later an assistant in a pawnshop, where he was demeaned and humiliated by his employer. The contempt was frequently witnessed by the young Rabbit, who still carries the scars.

And in a tunnel along the Tolka River (maybe) reached in mistake for the majestic straits of the Liffey, memory's battlefield comes to the fore. To survive, Rabbit must murder the reality of the past.

Does he succeed? In 1988, O'Kelly implied that he did; the same script played today proves that he was right. We have only to look at the endless financial scandals and apparent contempt for all ethics that go unpunished as we surge towards another "prosperity"... or perhaps another devastating crash.

And of course, O'Kelly's manic performance is extraordinary. Indeed, it seems better than the original, perhaps because he is now the correct age to play the seedy, ageing Rabbit.

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