Monday, 26 November 2012

Damned by Despair- published in The Irish World

The London National Theatre is currently showing Frank McGuinness’s version of Damned by Despair until October 19th.

Written by the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina back in the 17th century, the award winning Irish playwright’s take on this gang culture filled drama definitely arouses some curiosity.

The story itself is a pious one which aims to teach the audience a lesson in faith and its benefits to us in this life and the next, centring around two very different characters, Enrico and Paulo.

Paulo is a devout monk who has dedicated every inch of his life to living in accordance with the ten commandments when he asks god for an indication as to what will follow his demise.

The devil, disguised as an angel, answers Paulo and tells him that his end will match that of Enricos.

 Paulo seeks out this infamous individual with whom he shares his fate and discovers he is a vicious criminal destined only for the hot fires of hell.

 Naturally,after years of behaving himself, this enrages Paulo and he turns to a life of crime himself, rebelling against the god he believes has betrayed him.

 McGuinness delivers this version with a contemporary flavour, featuring retro t-shirt wearing goons and a cappuccino drinking Satan, in a style which could be acquainted to that of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet.

 While it is possible to see where McGuiness was going with this style of theatrical delivery it felt a little unoriginal on stage. This may have been mostly due to the bad casting as some of the actors brought little weight to their quite heavy roles.

 Enrico, who was played by Bertie Carvel, was a prime example as his quite camp portrayal of a very macho and threatening main character dragged the whole performance down quite a bit.

 His quite effected and at times quite feminine delivery, made Enrico, who’s every move was expected to make us cower in our theatre seats with fear, look less like the Satan’s ideal companion and more like a member of your local church choir. 

 This wasn’t helped by an unfortunate onstage prop malfunction when Enrico was clad in heavy prison chains chasing his girlfriend around a cell…only to become unshackled and free shouting “If only I could be free of these chain!”…a mishap that left the audience in fits of laughter and the plays ending in an unconvincing heap.

 There were however some enjoyable moments and glimpses of potential theatre magic, the majority of which came from Irish actor Rory Keenan who played Pedrisco, Paulo’s servant.

 Keenan, who has just finished in Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come in the Donmar, provided the audience with most the laughs as his expert timing once again shone through.

 Also the inclusion of a child soprano actor as the singing shepherd sent shivers penetrating through the tiers.

 Although the playwright’s background differed in many ways to that of McGuinness’s their similarities most likely lie in the affect of extreme faith on an individual or community. This was perhaps why McGuinness took on such a project being brought up a Catholic in county Donegal.

 However not enough pieces of this version’s puzzle fit neatly enough together to make any sort of theatrical impact on the audience and judging by the abundance of empty seats in the second half, it also left far too many disappointed.

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