Tuesday 16 July 2019

Theatre: When one life ends, another begins

Emer O'Kelly finds charm all the way in a warm adaptation of Maeve Binchy's novel

Noel (Steve Blount) is left to raise Frankie on his own and battle the tribulations of parenthood after Stella (Clare Barrett) dies. Photo: Al Craig
Noel (Steve Blount) is left to raise Frankie on his own and battle the tribulations of parenthood after Stella (Clare Barrett) dies. Photo: Al Craig

It was easier rearing children back in the 1980s. For a start, social media hadn't been invented. That's the first thought that occurs watching Minding Frankie, the stage adaptation by Shay Linehan of the late Maeve Binchy's novel.

The novel dates from 2010, but is a flashback to 25 years earlier, when the narrator Noel Lynch becomes an unexpected father.

An alcoholic and a bit of a ne'er-do-well, Noel didn't let women intrude overmuch into his life as a young man; the booze was paramount. But on a rare date at a music festival, he had a brief liaison with Stella.

Contacted months later by Stella's social worker (who isn't exactly stable or an achiever either, and nor is her client), he is told that she is in the final stages of terminal cancer, and about to give birth.

When he reluctantly visits, he's told that not only is he the father, Stella is without kith, kin, or friend. The little girl is to be called Frankie… and he's to rear her.

The play takes us through the next 25 years, with the usual tribulations of parenthood (particularly single parenthood) intensified and sometimes caused by Moira Tierney, the social worker charged to keep an eye, post mortem as it were, on Frankie's welfare.

And, of course, Noel sails heartwarmingly through, with nothing worse than one fall off the wagon, and one heart-stopping moment in Frankie's early babyhood when he leaves her on the table to go in search of a clean nappy: she falls off… but with no serious consequences.

And Noel has a whole streetful of good neighbours who ease his path through life, until from being merely a warehouseman, he takes over the company (lo and behold!) and turns it into Lynch and Daughter. There isn't a troll or a sexual predator in sight, and seemingly no money worries either.

But this is Binchy, and that's what she was about.

The fact that she managed to create a cosy world which was still recognisable and believable for a lot of people was the magic that made her a worldwide bestseller.

Steve Blount and Clare Barrett make a winning and winsome duo playing their various characters, especially as Noel and Moira in this Breda Cashe production at the Civic in Tallaght, directed imaginatively and with huge charm by Peter Sheridan in a set by Ciara Murnane lit by Eoin Lennon.

Minding Frankie, Civic Theatre Tallaght

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