Tuesday 22 October 2019

The Snapper at Gate Theatre review: Big hair, Whitney Houston and the birth of a new kind of father

Simon Delaney and Hazel Clifford in The Snapper
Simon Delaney and Hazel Clifford in The Snapper

Katy Hayes

The Gate has revived last year’s hit adaptation of ‘The Snapper’ for another summer outing. The birth trauma was experienced last year, so this second coming is likely to go the way of the first: good box-office performance and cheery playgoers emerging afterwards onto O’Connell Street.

Fathers in Irish plays and novels were for a long time terrible people, both repressed and repressing  — think of Gar O’Donnell’s plea “to hell with all strong silent men” in Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Roddy Doyle’s 1990 novel The Snapper is the story of 20-year-old Sharon Rabbitte giving birth to a baby and trying to conceal the embarrassing identity of its father. But the novel is also about the birth of a new type of man. Sharon’s own father, Jimmy, is an old-school patriarch ready to defend his daughter’s honour with his fists. But he grows to become a new man, educating himself about women’s bodies. The 1980s, for all its repressions, was the decade when this tectonic shift occurred in life, and it was brilliantly captured in literature by Doyle. Typically with Doyle, this slice of enlightenment was delivered with lashings of humour.

Róisín McBrinn’s direction is a triumph; between herself and Doyle’s adaptation, they smoothly iron out the episodic nature of the story. Eighties numbers from Madness, Chrissie Hynde and Whitney Houston keep the tempo up. Sharon’s girlfriends, with their big hair, big earrings and big personalities, absolutely capture the emergence of a bolder young woman at the time. The invisible dog is a great touch.

The show is also a fine depiction of the delightful chaos of family life. Kids, dogs, bikes fly on and off. Simon Delaney is starry as Jimmy. But the show is angled towards Hazel Clifford as Sharon, whose performance is outstanding. Alannah Prendergast and Emer Ryan, who performed the ballroom dancing little sisters on opening night, were a highlight. Simon O’Gorman does a terrific job of capturing the delusional self-regard of George Burgess, typical of a certain type of predatory male.

Paul Wills’ delightful set is a patchwork concoction of posters, wallpapers and textiles, with screens effectively deployed with 1980s TV programmes and street signs. Different rooms in the house are wheeled about on coasters. Other rooms emerge from behind panels.

This is a great evening’s entertainment; Sharon finally gets her bundle of joy, and the audience has had a barrel of laughs.

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