Tag Archives: Bríd Brennan

“The Ferryman” at the Garrick Theatre

Superstar playwright Jez Butterworth’s latest drama was a hit before it even opened: the West End transfer was announced simultaneous to its sell-out opening at the Royal Court and a new cast will soon take the show into 2018. This long harvest day’s journey into tragedy is the story of the Carney family, farmers in Northern Ireland whose connections with the IRA haunt them. This is a big family drama – and not just due to the size of the household, but because of Butterworth’s exquisite writing.

There’s a luxurious feel to the show – although this is a working-class world – created by Rob Howell’s design and director Sam Mendes, who resists the temptation to rush a single moment. Three hours is a long running time for a new play, but every minute holds you. Above all, a huge company, including some extraordinary younger performers, are awe-inspiring. It really shouldn’t be possible to have so many characters so clearly delineated by their own compelling stories.

There’s a lot of laughter in the family, a real sense of warmth, and not a few Irish stereotypes. This has been commented on by Sean O’Hagan, better qualified than myself. To be sure, there’s a lot of whisky drinking and some gags around children swearing seem cheap, if effective. But the stories told, swirling around the discovery of a murdered family member’s body, broaden the play’s themes beyond the Troubles.

Myth and history populate the play. The past preoccupies Aunt Maggie Far Away, “visiting” from her dementia, and obsesses Aunt Pat, whose brother died in the Easter Rising: two brilliant roles engendering stunning performances from Bríd Brennan and Dearbhla Molloy respectively. Meanwhile Uncle Pat has plenty of anecdotes while, with another strong performance from Des McAleer (pictured top), enforcing the play’s theme of death, which escalates with such foreboding.

Tom Glynn-Carney
Tom Glynn-Carney

There’s a point to all the marvellously crafted yarns – The Uses of Story Telling, if you’re looking for a dissertation title. The tales form a link to violence inherited by the young. A terrific scene with four youths, led with febrile energy by Tom Glynn-Carney, shows them captivated by accounts of IRA leader Mr Muldoon (Stuart Graham) and the 1981 hunger strikers. In the shadows (there’s plenty of eavesdropping in this play – stories morph into rumour and hearsay, after all) is an even younger “wean”, skilfully depicted by Rob Malone, who is driven to desperate measures.

Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly
Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly

At the heart of the play is a love triangle that leads to star performances. A repressed affair between the play’s patriarch Quinn, performed with charming assurance by Paddy Considine, and his bereaved sister-in-law Caitlin, a role Laura Donnelly articulates marvellously, leads to some of the best dialogue. Although appearing relatively late, Quinn’s wife Mary is given her due through Genevieve O’Reilly’s quiet performance. The unrequited emotions of all three create an unusual love story that thrums with excitement. As Quinn’s IRA past rears its head with a tension that would please any thriller writer, Mendes’ strengths shine. The fear of what might come next hangs over the final hour of the show. Butterworth manages to juggle all this with enviable dexterity, producing a work of complexity and popular appeal.

Until 6 January 2018

www.TheFerrymanPlay.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“All My Sons” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 2014 season got off to a cracking start last night with a new production of All My Sons. The Arthur Miller classic, about a war profiteer and his family, is given a terrific treatment by the theatre’s artistic director Timothy Sheader. The play’s moral concerns and complexity receive due deference while a tremendous amount of suspense is added in.

Sheader has some fine performers to work with. Tom Mannion and Bríd Brennan play the Kellers with care and skill; he seems all conviviality, the working man made good, while her fixed grin belies an iron will corroded by the secrets they share. Rich from supplying faulty goods to the US Air Force, the next generation must share the legacy of their mistakes.

Back from fighting in World War II, the Keller’s son Chris is caught between a family mourning his lost brother and his own noble ambitions to live a better life. Chris’ love for his brother’s sweetheart, Ann, literally the girl next door, forces him to confront the role her father took as a patsy for the Kellers’ crime. Amy Nuttall plays Ann with skilful restraint, building momentum as the play’s shocking revelations unfold.

Charles Aitken excels as Keller Jnr, the war-traumatised conscience of the piece, with a perfect smile that reflects his character’s optimism and the charm to convince us that he is as good as he seems. In a play seething about the hypocrisy behind the poster-perfect American suburbs (aided here by Maddie Rice’s superb performance as a neighbour), Chris has to be the believable beacon of integrity, and Aitken delivers a great performance.

Not surprisingly, Sheader knows how to use the space at his own theatre. Tying the play’s timing to the setting of the sun is hugely effective, while Lizzie Clachan’s set is thought provoking and Nick Powell’s music superb. The play speeds by at a cracking pace and the carefully controlled tension is tremendous. A stunning final scene makes this a truly haunting evening and shows a director in charge of a quality production.

Until 7 June 2014

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Written 21 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Henry V” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Globe has a special relationship with Henry V: the play opened the new theatre and any bardophile is sure to thrill at the lines referring to “this wooden O” when they hear them in situ. With the bunting still out on the streets, Shakespeare’s most patriotic king is in tune with this summer. Henry’s rallying “once more unto the breach” is addressed so directly to the audience that it receives spontaneous applause. And it is richly deserved: Dominic Dromgoole’s new production is a triumph.

Droomgoole is too intelligent a director to reduce Henry V to jingoism. Fully at home in The Globe, he brings out the nuances in the play with all its bittersweet humour. There’s a tremendous performance from Brendan O’Hea as the leek-loving Welshman Fluellen, providing a cynical twist on patriotism. Leading the low life is the superb Sam Cox as Pistol, getting the laughs while reminding us that those who suffer most in war are often the poor.

The production is aided immeasurably by a wonderful performance from Brid Brennan in the role of the chorus. She sets the scenes, urging us to “work our thoughts” with beautiful clarity, perfectly reflecting Droomgoole’s simple, no-nonsense approach. This Henry V is full of confidence, it has faith in the play, and the production’s achievement is to show off Shakespeare at his very best.

The jewel in the crown of Droomgoole’s Henry V is Jamie Parker in the title role. Martial certainly, blood curdling when he has to be, but also full of charm, Parker’s frequently understated performance shows total control (he’s even better than Branagh), and you want to back him and even fight for him. This is a truly glorious reign, certain to make any theatre lover happy.

Until 26 August 2012

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Haynes

Written 14 June 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Veil” at the National Theatre

As the nights draw in, what could be more apt than a ghost story? Conor McPherson’s new play, The Veil, aims to chill and thrill over the winter months at the National Theatre.

Set in early 19th-century Ireland, the local gentry, living in not so genteel poverty, and their staff are haunted by both the past and current events in their politically divided nation. Lady Lambroke looks to her daughter’s marriage as a way to escape debts and the country. Her brother, a clergyman defrocked for his interest in spiritualism, is to escort the girl to England for marriage, but his interest in his niece has more to do with her ‘gift’ for the supernatural.

Fenella Woolgar and Emily Taaffe make a convincing mother and daughter who, despite their snobbishness, gain our sympathy and admiration. Jim Norton plays the Reverend Berkeley (named for his interest in Idealism) in an appropriately intelligent style that’s passionate enough to convince us he believes his ideas, but leaves room for us to laugh as well.

The staff, including the redoubtable Mrs Goulding (the excellent Bríd Brennan), are a source of further drama. They come together on appropriate windy, candle-lit nights, as the ghost stories and séances get under way. McPherson directs these scenes wonderfully. Unfortunately, there isn’t much sense of time or place in The Veil and Rae Smith’s impressively designed set and costumes start to seem rather pointless – it all looks great but it isn’t put to enough use.

If McPherson wanted to achieve more than an entertaining evening of ghost stories it seems he has fallen short. Extra themes are hinted at yet never materialise. But The Veil is satisfying supernatural and is sure to appeal to his fans. The storytelling is as good as ever, his characters as likeable and well realised, and the language wonderfully lyrical.

Until 11 December 2011

www.nationaltheatre.org

Photo by Helen Warner

Written 5 October 2011 for The London Magazine