Monday 18 December 2017

A second coming for signature Friel play

Anita Guidera

THE challenge for cast and crew with a composition as played as this Friel masterpiece is to find its freshness anew.

In fact, two of the cast from this Second Age production played the same roles in Adrian Dunbar's version in the Gaiety. Walter McMonagle reprieves his role as taciturn father, S B O'Donnell, and a charming Marty Rea as Gar Private.

But with lightness of touch, director Alan Stanford succeeds in eliciting from a talented cast a keen sense of the repressive early 1960s in rural Ireland.

This is aided by a meticulously detailed set by award-winning designer Eileen Diss.

Here, in this Donegal backwater of Ballybeg, Gar Public, performed with sensitivity and youthful exuberance by Donegal-born rising star Sean Stewart, is on the cusp of cutting loose for Philadelphia.


His inner turmoil, actualised by Rea's Gar Private, gives the play its dimension as he struggles with lost love and desperately seeks an eleventh-hour demonstration of love from an uncommunicative father.

Among the theatrical high points is the poignant visit and awkward embrace of Gar from old schoolteacher, Master Boyle (Enda Oates), who is drowning his love for Gar's dead mother in alcohol, and Aine Ni Mhuiri's touching performance as world weary Madge, about to lose the closest thing she has ever had to a son.

But tying it all together is humour, not just from the excellent mimicry of Gar Private and the thinly-veiled pathos of Aunt Lizzy (Joan Sheehy), but from the lads who call to say goodbye only to distract themselves from the moment with grandiose claims of their own past conquests.

Perhaps stealing the show is the hilarious John Olohan as smug Canon Mick O'Byrne, one of the few characters who's truly delighted with himself and his lot.

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