Review: Keeping it country
Theatre: 'Are You There Garth? It's me, Margaret', Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
There are wonderful ingredients in this fizzy concoction. The concept is super: the story is built around the crazy events of last year, when Garth Brooks sold out three concerts at Croke Park. He added two extra gigs, and these sold like hot Stetsons, too, but "subject to licence". All five were eventually cancelled. Perhaps they should have secured the dates before selling the tickets? But as Fiona Looney says in her clever script: "That's not how we do things here, when we can just apologise later."
Margaret, who has tickets to the first of the ill-fated concerts, is played brilliantly by Deirdre O'Kane. She handles the gags and quips, but also hits the emotional intensities. Maclean Burke, Stephen Jones and Jonathan White people the stage energetically with various county councillors, protesting residents, GAA managers and Enda Kenny. Burke also does a highly entertaining Garth Brooks. They are like a sketch team who play out much of the factual events.
This sketch material unfolds alongside the story of Margaret, her three children, one of whom is autistic, and the fading passion of her marriage to Declan, who is now unemployed and depressed. Margaret has lost her fancy job in the city and is working in the local SuperValu. The Croke Park concert means the world to her.
Running 90 minutes without an interval, the show begins to develop structural problems about two thirds of the way through. The energy of Margaret's crisis gets dissipated by the bitty scenarios of the sketch format. At the end we finally hear from Declan. At this point the writing needed to soar, and instead it retreats into banalities. Looney, as primarily a comedy writer, lacks confidence in her drama. A pity, because with better structuring these ingredients would be unbeatable.