Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Sunday 18 August 2019

Postcards from the Ledge: 'This theatre show puts the ROCK in the place that suits him best - centre stage'

Rory Nolan as Ross O'Caroll Kelly
Rory Nolan as Ross O'Caroll Kelly

Katy Hayes

Ross O'Caroll-Kelly is Ireland's answer to Homer Simpson. Paul Howard has created a terrific comic character and this latest outing is as smart and smarter than any of the previous incarnations. The fourth stage-play for Landmark Productions is billed as a one-man show, and technically it is. Rory Nolan, who has played the part since its first outing a decade ago, holds the stage alone, but there are a number of phone calls to the other members of his family which give the show more shape.

Set in 2029, Ross is heading for 50. His wife Sorcha is the Taoiseach and his triplet sons are playing schools' rugby. His son by a Finglas girl, Ronan, has done a course in conflict resolution and is brokering a truce between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs, to end the feud which has been going on for 14 years. Ross, managing director of estate agent Hook, Lyon and Sinker, spends the morning at an address in Sallynoggin waiting for his client to show up. It is his childhood home.

His beloved daughter Honor, now a professional pianist, is aged 24. Today is her wedding day and the reception is to be held in the Shelbourne Hotel. Ross is refusing to go as he hates her fiancé. "The last thing I wanted was for my daughter to end up with someone like me. I didn't realise she could do worse." The drama of the story follows Ross working out his feelings about his daughter and his family. Working out his life, basically. Director Jimmy Fay does an excellent job, integrating the telephone voices off stage and the caricatures performed by Ross to give the show real shape and liberate it from the ordinary limitations of the one-man set-up. The two hours, including an interval, whizz by. Set designer Grace Smart fills the tall Gaiety space with great style; a particularly dynamic touch is the television aerial on the roof. Lighting designer Paul Keogan makes a huge contribution, reflecting the mood changes and memory shifts with dramatic colour; the security lights occasionally pulse as though they have their own beating heart.

The small Sallynoggin house appears alive. Nolan is simply terrific. His impressions of the other members of his family are hilarious and he does a brilliant caricature of Honor's toothy 54-year-old fiancée, Greg. A highlight is the golf outing between Ross, his father and Greg.

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly was born as a scrap of satire in 1998 in The Sunday Tribune when Howard was a sports journalist there. It has developed over almost 20 years and a generation has grown up with it. Howard's satirical touch is light; it's hard to imagine him toppling any governments. But it is tremendously, gloriously funny. While the novels and newspaper columns have been very successful, this theatre show puts the ROCK in the place that suits him best - centre stage.

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Violence is no substitute for drama

This new play by Glasgow-based writer Frances Poet is an adaptation of Jean Racine's Andromaque, which in itself was an adaptation of a Euripides Greek tragedy. It is set in some unnamed place and time, which could be the past or a dystopian savage future. People trap and eat hares.

The Peacock stage has been moved forward, taking out a number of seat rows, thus creating a cosier atmosphere, but losing a lot of capacity in the process. There are two women in wedding dresses on the stage. Hermione is a spoiled daddy's girl with a southern Irish accent. Andromaque has a northern Irish accent. She is a widowed mother whose husband has been butchered and who is desperately trying to protect her son.

A man called Red, whose father killed Andromaque's husband, is betrothed to Hermione. The other menfolk are called Killer and Hammer and Peacock and Shadow. Everyone is bitter and desires revenge. As time passes, Red finds himself intoxicated by the mature and spiky Andromaque. On the day he has planned to marry Hermione, he decides to swap brides at the last minute. There is a bloody melée.

This is a static monologue play, and the two actors deliver their material straight out to the audience. The two women are restrained on chairs with cable ties, waiting to be questioned about the wedding day bloodbath. There is only one scene in which they interact - and it is the best scene. Lucianne McEvoy is deliciously spoilt and amoral as Hermione. Julie Rodgers gives a powerful, tough performance as Andromaque. Costume-designer Katie Davenport creates two nightmare wedding dresses.

There is no attempt to make the show relevant to anything going on today in either Ireland or the world. Director/designer Graham McLaren tries to jazz it all up by giving it the Mad Max treatment with meat-hook visuals, disconcerting audio, and splatters of blood everywhere. But violence is no substitute for drama, and despite convincing performances, there isn't much to savour here - except the spectacularly trashed meringue wedding dress.

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