Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Philadelphia Here I Come!- review published in The Irish World newspaper 04/08/2012


The Donmar Theatre Warehouse in London’s Covent Garden has been transformed into a 1950’s Irish household with the revival of Brian Friel’s much celebrated Philadelphia, Here I come!

Telling the often told tale of emigration that lies at the forefront of Irish history, Friel’s play catapulted him into international theatrical notoriety fifty years ago and remains highly topical and effective even today.

Friel’s unfettered imagination unearths life’s hardships with a sharp comedic shovel using the power of language, communication, and music as highly effective and emotive tools.

Set in the imagined community of Ballybeg, a town which features in thirteen of Friel’s plays, it takes place the day and night before Gar O’Donnell’s departure for the States, as he deals with his inner struggle to communicate with those he is leaving behind.

Through Friel’s dissection of the main character into Gar Public – the one everyone sees and hears, and Gar private – a personified version of his conscience, he highlights the intrinsic Irish nature of putting on a public performance while dealing with thoughts that contain a vivid contrast

Gar Public is played by Paul Reid, whose doe-eyed youthful features portray the more vulnerable side of the character, while Gar private, played by Rory Keenan, delivers the intense and often passionate thoughts trapped behind his innocent complexion.

These actors complimented each other on stage as their diverse acting styles and presence seemed to balance the character perfectly.

Speaking previously to The Irish World, Reid said: “I don’t think private or public can touch or push each other, but in the end it all comes down to trust- like with any good partner in anything. We have plenty of it.”

Through his preparation for his big journey, Gar battles with the difficult relationship he holds with his father, S.B O’Donnell, played by James Hayes.

As in much of Friel’s work, it is through the characters eccentricities that the audience become involved, stemming equally from what they do and in S.B’s case, don’t say.

Played with the introvert lack of emotion you might expect from a man of his day, Hayes’s alluring character embodies the Irish nature of expressing a lot by actually saying very little.

In exploring the role of communication within an Irish family, Friel unmasks the complexities it can evoke between those involved.

It is also through the inclusion of Madge, Gar’s only mother figure, played by Shameless’s Valerie Lilley, that Friel conveys an outwardly strength of character concealing suppressed emotions.

Lilley plays the part with a convincing charm and quick wit, as her animated natural features and twinkling eyes add to both the comedic and tragic elements of the story.

In all, this performance provided many the laugh out loud opportunity for the audience, particularly with Gar Private’s parodied version of his father’s night time routine described by him in a fashion show commentary.

Friel’s play has been performed many times through a variety of methods, by an array of varying actors, and is sure to continue to do so for a long time more. However this latest performance, directed by Lyndsey Turner, seems to hit quite close to the heart of what you might imagine Friel had aimed for when originally writing the script.

It is difficult to find fault with a performance such as this, but the only time that might have allowed for the audience to slip away somewhat from the story was when James Hayes’s accent occasionally filtered through.

However, the accuracy of the comedic timing, the convincing ability of the actors in evoking emotions in the audience, and the use of music and movement to tell Friel’s story, all make for a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience.

Whether you are an accomplished fanatic of Friel’s work already, or a curious novice, this energetic performance promises to touch your funny bone, heart strings, or quite possibly both.

Philadelphia, Here I Come! plays at the Donmar Theatre until September 22nd.

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