Archive for November, 2021

Yes So I Said Yes (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: November 27, 2021 in Theatre
Photo: Lidia Crispafulli

Writer: David Ireland

Director: Max Elton


Judged from his most recent works, perhaps the one word that can best describe the style of Belfast-born playwright, David Ireland is “confrontational”. In both Cyprus Avenue, which enjoyed two successful runs at London’s Royal Court Theatre, and Ulster American, a big hit at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, characters challenge each other and audiences ferociously and follow through with shocking acts of violence. If the title of this, his latest play which is here receiving its premiere on this side of the Irish Sea, suggests a milder approach, it is misleading. There is no mellowing of tone and, in fact, the writer could be said to have progressed from risking offending many to being near certain of offending all.

Ireland’s writing bears an acute awareness of the divisions, both political and social, on the island of his birth. He writes from the perspective of belonging to a province that seeks an identity and a relevance in the modern world, perpetually viewing itself as either British or Irish or neither or both. Now (the play is set in 2011), following on from the peace process, even traditional sectarian killing is out of fashion. The writer’s themes are as before, but he now presents them in the form of an absurdist satire that is even starker in a horror tale about mental torment, rape, bestiality and Eamonn Holmes.

The central figure, Alan “Snuffy” Black, a Protestant Unionist, is played with a doleful look of bewilderment by Daragh O’Malley; he is diagnosed by his jocular doctor (Kevin Trainor) as suffering from depression after he complains that the barking dog owned by his neighbour, McCorrick (Owen O’Neill) is preventing him from sleeping every night. The dog (symbolic of irrational prejudices?) may or may not exist. Snuffy gets help from an unconventional therapist (Laura Dos Santos) who orders an outrageous remedy for his ills.

Director Max Elton’s production has pace and anger, magnifying the play’s darkest humour. The right note is hit with the arrival of two Unionist paramilitaries, a hilarious double act comprising the relentlessly aggressive Craig (Kevin Murphy) and his over-eager sidekick, Carson (Declan Rodgers). Sadly, their appearance is too brief and, without them, Elton struggles to keep the excesses of Ireland’s black comic writing in check.

in the course of the production’s 80-minutes (straight through) running time, jokes work sporadically, but they tend to be dragged out for too long and, while all the ingredients for a successful black comedy are here, they feel wrongly balanced. Resulting from this, the play eventually strays so far beyond the boundaries of good taste that it ends up being neither funny nor meaningful.

Performance date: 25 November 2021

Little Women The Musical (Park Theatre)

Posted: November 18, 2021 in Theatre
Photo: Pamela Raith

Book: Allan Knee

Music: Jason Howland

Lyrics: Mindi Dickstein

Director: Bronagh Lagan


Interest in Louisa May Alcott’s 1868/9 two volume semi-autobiographical novels, Little Women, was revived by a highly acclaimed 2019 film adaptation. Its mix of comedy, tragedy, romance and nostalgia clearly remains potent today and it would seem that these could be the perfect ingredients for it to follow the paths of other 19th Century literary works to become a successful musical. 

Set in New England at a time when the American Civil War is raging far to the south, Alcott’s books tell the coming of age stories of the four March sisters who live with their impoverished mother while their father is away serving in the Union army.There is a lot for writer Allan Knee to condense into 260 minutes (including interval), but he does a fine job in jettisoning subsidiary characters and scenes, while retaining the full flavour of the original.

The most striking feature of director Bronagh Lagan’s heartwarming production is the impeccable casting. Anyone familiar with the novels is likely to recognise all of the characters as soon as they appear on stage, dressed in splendid period costumes, designed by Nik Corrall. Lydia White gives a thrilling star performance as second oldest sister Jo, a strong-willed aspiring writer, assumed to be based on Alcott herself. Jo resolves never to marry and rejects the advances of the awkward, over-eager neighbour Laurie (Sev Keoshgerian showing deft comic touches), while her older sister, Meg (Hana Ichijo), sets herself on a course towards marital bliss with Laurie’s tutor, John (Lejaun Sheppard).

The quartet is completed by musically talented Beth (Anastasia Martin) and the precocious, spiteful Amy (a deliciously nasty Mary Moore). Savannah Stevenson, with the sweetest soprano voice in the company, is the girls’ loving “Marmee” and, in memorable cameo roles, Bernadine Pritchett is the domineering Aunt March, Brian Protheroe is the kindly rich neighbour, Mr Lawrence and Ryan Bennett is the timid New York Professor who could have a chance of winning Jo’s hand.

Sadly, the songs with music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, are a big disappointment, most of them distinguished only by their consistent mediocrity. It feels as if all the work in developing the characters and propelling the story is done by the book writer and the performers, with the songs contributing very little. There is some improvement in the later stages and the final duet between Jo and the Professor, Small Umbrella in the Rain, is actually rather charming, but still there is nothing likely to linger in the head even for as long as it takes to reach the theatre’s exit door.

The production succeeds well as a dramatisation of Alcott’s novels and the transformation into a musical takes little away from that success; however, neither does it add very much. If the producers aim to take the show beyond this 200-seat venue and expand it, they will need to find some songs that are capable of making a stronger impact.

Performance date: 17 November 2021

Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Rebecca Watson

Adaptor: Miriam Battye

Director: Katie Mitchell


On the face of it, Rebecca Watson’s extraordinary modern novel little scratch would seem impossible to dramatise. Written in short sentences, often random, often disconnected, it expresses the thoughts of a troubled young woman as she ploughs through a single, unremarkable working day. She commutes to her office, executes her mundane tasks, masks her internal pain and itches while remaining determined never to scratch.

Perhaps the novel could have been made to work as a monologue, but adaptor Miriam Battye and director Katie Mitchell do not look for easy options. Their play is performed by four superb actors, not bringing to life other characters in the unnamed woman’s story, but illustrating the conflicts and confusions inside her mind. This bold and original technique works to stunning effect.

Mitchell preempts the criticism that this is nothing more than a radio play by making it seem as if we are watching the recording of a radio play. Three women (Morónké Akinolá, Eleanor Henderson and Eve Ponsonby) and one man (Ragevan Vasan) appear statuesque behind standing microphones on a semi-lit stage throughout the production’s 95 minutes. They improvise sound effects and take turns to articulate the woman’s thoughts. Curiously, they become a non-singing choral quartet, the varying timbres of their voices, the precise rhythms and timing of their speech collectively representing a mind in turmoil.

The play dwells on the minutiae of daily life – waking up, eating breakfast, performing bodily functions, facing social media and so on – before finding the epicentre of the woman’s trauma. She is a rape victim. She sets herself the challenge of carrying on as if nothing had happened, working in the office where the assault had taken place, continuing her happy relationship with her boyfriend, but she is unable to bring herself to tell anyone what had happened. Crucially, the adaptor and director never allow the play to feel as if it is a cathartic outpouring; everything remains internalised as the woman searches for her own ways to come to terms with events and to begin the healing process.

Unflinching in its approach, sometimes unavoidably shocking and sickeningly topical, Watson’s book has been transformed into a uniquely disturbing theatre experience.

Performance date: 12 November 2021