15th Jan – 16th Feb
Script Stagecraft Performance
Taking my seat in the second row of the Lyceum, five minutes before showtime, I was suddenly squidged past by this giant of a fellow. Taking his seat beside me I’m like, ‘I recognise him… ah, Braveheart, Troy, its the Irish genius that is Brendan Gleeson.’ A few minutes later I watched him smile with pride as his son, Brian Gleeson, began playing the barman of ‘Brendan’s Bar,’ a true Irish watering hole in the furthest north-west reaches of the Emerald Isle. We had been transported there by the pen of one of Ireland’s most prestigious contemporary playwrights, Conor McPherson, & the marvellously accurate & atmospheric stagecraft of the Lyceum’s creative team, led by Amanda Gaughan. Among these purveyors of the noble craft, Francis O’Connor was responsible for the magical set, telling the Mumble, ‘I’ve designed a lot of Irish drama & many are set or part set in pubs so I’ve a huge amount of reference in my studio… and a very great deal of direct immersion!’
The Irish predilection for a good booze-up runs all the way through the play, a ‘Withnail & I’ style romp that almost drains the bar dry – a small one here, a harp there & a quick run inside the house by Brendan for the 1990 christmas bottle of white wine for the fancy city lady just moving into their rural haven, there. Her name is red-headed Valerie, AKA Lucianne McEvoy, & it is about her arrival in this obscure corner of Ireland that the play revolves. Accompanying her on stage are four fellows, the brilliant Gary Lydon as fifties singleton, Jack, the Compoesque Darragh Kelly as Jim, Frank McCusker as the married but flirtatious Finbar giving Valerie a tour of the area & of course Brian Gleeson, a right chip off the old block who oozed the most consummate confidence.
One by-one the cast trek through the stormy conditions of the Atlantic Irish coast & enter the welcoming bosom of Brendan’s bar. Everybody’s buying drinks for everybody else & bantering about the horses, work & all the usual stuff that surrounds life in the hicksville sticks. The play is dialogue heavy, & that is its main strength – the lovely lilt of the Irish dialect is always a pleasure to hear, especially through the rhapsodic tongues of professional actors. The banter flows as freely as the booze, & it is only when we reach a Decameron/Cantebury Tayles series of ghostly monologues that the play begins to stutter, somewhat. Saying that, perhaps McPherson introduced this as a an actual device, for by the time we reach the end of Valerie’s tale, I have never in all my days of witnessing theatre experienced a silence as sustained, impeccable & as harrowing as this one. We were almost begging somebody on stage to break the tension, a magnificent moment which everybody involved in this play should be proud.
This is a fine, fine play, in which Gary Lydon’s Jack is a particularly brilliant combination of actor & part blending in perfect harmony. We are not given answers to morality here, we are not taken on a thrilling journey of suspense, but what we are given are front table tickets to the world of real life & real people & real agonies & joys… & all in real time as well. With this play being performed in the winter months, I urge anyone to make a similar trek through wild conditions to find yourself basking in the warmth & comfort of Brendan’s Bar.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen