Posts Tagged ‘Risteard Cooper’

Review – The Weir – Donmar Theater

April 27, 2013

Rural Ireland is poverty stricken and full of superstitious alcoholics – or so it would seem if you choose to take the world of Conor McPherson’s The Weir (now playing at The Donmar Warehouse) as indicative of a lifestyle. Before I’d moved to the UK, I’d never heard that the stereotype (or one of) of Irish people was that they were superstitious, but this is the second play I’ve seen set in modern Ireland that takes that tack. Is this really the point the playwright is trying to make? The set up for this play seems as stale and backwards as the concept of a world where a pack of cigarettes could be paid for with pocket change and a twenty pound note would be a rare sight in a pub.

But … I don’t know about these stereotypes. What I do know about is plot and character and setting. And The Weir is, at its heart, a ghost story, or a series of ghost stories, which we, the audience, get to listen to just like we were all crowded around a fire in a dark house in the winter. It takes the opportunity of people’s reactions to show the character of the people in the play, not what kind of “characters” they are but what kind of character they have, and by doing this we come to see them, not as a bunch of drunks trying to one-up each other, but as a group of individuals carefully given life by McPherson’s script. There’s “local lad made good,” a swaggering braggart who wants to show off in front of the other guys (Risteard Cooper); the helpful hand and peacemaker (Ardal O’Hanlon); the kind-hearted barman whose future happiness may be in question (Peter McDonald); and the happy go lucky, down on his luck guy who’s made some mistakes he can’t get past (Brian Cox). And then, into this knot of known quantities, comes a woman (Dervla Kirwan). I wondered where the play would go with her, what her role would be; and, in the end, I concluded, her role was to be a foil to allow each of the men to show their true natures. The well-to-to-guy comes off as shallow, protective of the social order, and quick to cast of people who upset his view of the world; the peacemaker continues to be kind but unwilling to take a stand; the down on his luck guy still good hearted but more of a sad case; the bartender someone who will stand by you when the chips are down. And the woman, well, she becomes someone who has a past, and someone whose future you wonder about, and you can’t help but hoping that somehow she and the bartender wind up together.

The setting is perfectly realistic as an old bar; although the accents seem occasionally forced, the acting is smooth and professional; and, added together, the evening has all the ingredients to let you sit back and enjoy stories and place and the strange way people behave when they feel their lives are being challenged – sometimes in ways that do them credit, sometimes in ways that show what they’re really made of isn’t much to be proud of. It was a good night out, a lovely evening of theater, and both quick (at just under two hours) and the right kind of fast, as each person’s tale drew me in so much the evening flew by. Nice job, Josie.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013. The Weir continues through.June 8th.)

Review – Juno and the Paycock – National Theatre

November 16, 2011

Although my trip to the Lyttleton to see Juno and the Paycock was for a preview performance (tonight is the official opening at the National), I’d like to note that there’s no reason not to judge it fully as it stood last night – the production of this 1924 play is a transfer (and coproduction) with the Abbey in Dublin (which has already been reviewed).

Thursday, September 8th, 2011. In a frenzy of purchasing I attack the National Theater website with the aim of securing, at the lowest possible price, tickets to all of the shows in the fall season – all of the ones I think I will enjoy, that is. I read the description of Juno and the Paycock: “One of the great plays of the twentieth century, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock offers a devastating portrait of wasted potential in a Dublin torn apart by the chaos of the Irish Civil War, 1922.” Oh, well, okay! A great play, something to teach me about Irish history, and the pain of wasted potential – sounds like another August: Osage County or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! I happily dropped two tickets in my basket (balcony at £20, not as cheap as I was hoping) and went on to the rest of the season.

So. Intense struggling characters; a tightly knit family with their long connections (and resentments) carefully revealed through dialogue; some specifics about living conditions among the poor in the early twenties; a decent leavening of
Irish history. This is what I hoped for.

Horrible, comic, painful overacting (particularly from Ciaran Hinds and Risteard Cooper, who seemed to be in One Man Two Guv’nors); conversations that killed time but went nowhere; lines shouted from the stage; history as window dressing; characters cut from cardboard and moving like paper dolls on a set that looked like a rotting mansion. And worst of all, the play turned “the poor Irish” into caricatures: drunk, lazy, supersitious, ignorant, everything I would criticize as a ridiculous stereotype in a new show. I could feel no sympathy for any of them, because they were not sympathetic; but I felt genuine anger at the playwright, who, I felt, had not made an honest play.

This show was for me like being stuck at two of my least favorite shows of the last thirteen months, Men Shall Weep and Chicken Soup with Barley, as I frequently could not understand what was being said on stage (my American-ness working against me) and had a real dislike of the core characters. But Men Shall Weep at least seemed realistic (and sympathetic, if schmaltzy) and Chicken Soup incorporated the history of London communism to an extent that I became interested enough to do further research. And both of them had characters drawn from the fabric of reality, not from the funny pages, with relationships between them that held together after the curtain dropped. Juno and the Paycock, though – I am convinced that it is fatally flawed as a work on the 21st century stage; and the production could not convince me it had any merit at all.

At the interval (ninety minutes in and at least thirty minutes after I started wondering when we were to be set free), I consulted my companions about our courses of acction. Only one of us wished to stay and it was only so that he could finish his review by saying that he’d actually seen it all; but without me by his side, he didn’t feel he could stay awake. I was not willing to stay just so I could say that I had. I hated it. I wanted to leave the theater with a violent passion. We compromised by looking up the ending on Wikipedia, decided we didn’t really care how it played out, then all melted into the night.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011. It continues through February 26th, 2012. If you feel eager to see this play, I advise patience as you are very likely to be able to get discounted tickets later in the run.)