Theatre review: The Gigli Concert, The Gate Theatre, Dublin
The Gigli Concert arrives triumphantly on to the Gate stage, in this superb production of Tom Murphy’s 30-year-old play of trauma, crisis and cure.
The story follows six sessions between the Irish Man (Denis Conway) and “Dynamatologist” JPW King (Declan Conlon), who is half quack/half therapist. The Irish Man is depressed, and comes to JPW whose organisation claims “anything is possible.” He thinks he will be cured if he learns to sing like the Italian tenor Gigli.
With an uncanny contemporary resonance, the Irish Man is a property developer who has made millions but finds only emptiness. Conway brings a distraught energy to the stage in this powerful performance, all suppressed violence and thug-in-a-tux.
Conlon was born to play JPW. An inherently cerebral actor, he mixes the heft of a thinking man with the confusion of a lovesick fool. The Irish Man is, at a fundamental level, completely ignorant of his predicament – that is his problem. JPW completely understands it – that is his.
Director David Grindley conducts the performances with audacity. The two men are often wild in intensity, hitting passionate notes, but always controlled. A contrasting Dawn Bradfield as JPW’s married lover Mona brings a feminine melancholy to the mix; she is the saddest of sexpots. Both despite and because of all the trauma, the play is tremendously funny.
The purpose of the sessions with JPW King is to make the Irish Man sing like Gigli, to cure him by having him experience the sublime. This too is the purpose of the play, but the trick is that the audience also gets drawn into an experience of the sublime. This is dramatically achieved here as the show climaxes. The play is the most ambitious and brilliant work in the Irish repertoire and it is expertly served.