I’LL TELL ME MA
by Tom O’Brien.
Pentameters Theatre 28 Heath Street NW3 6TE To 28 November.
Tue-Sat 8pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 November.
Let’s hear it from the Aran sweaters.
Developed over the last couple of years, the London Irish Theatre project instigated by Pentameters’ Léonie Scott-Matthews and director John Dunne has revived a number of short plays well worth the dusting-off from the century-or-so old Celtic Twilight period, and now offers Tom O’Brien’s invigorating musical trip through the story of Liam Clancy, of Irish Folk Music revival group The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
Several Clancys had spent time in the 1950s in America, Liam particularly wanting a career as an actor. Meanwhile, American Diane Hamilton was visiting Ireland looking for folk tunes. She met, among others, Liam Clancy and took him back to the USA, well able to cover his passage, as ‘Hamilton’ was a name disguising her identity as a member of America’s mega-plutocrat Guggenheim family.
Walking round the Irish countryside the two came across Slievenamon, ‘mountain of the woman’, named from its mammary shape and legendary link with Finn MacCool’s annual marriages. Yet, comically, O’Brien presents us with another in the series of Irishmen dominated by women. Toby Lee’s Liam, personably naïve, confides his continuing virginity, offering the hilarious idea of the innocent young Irish lad propelling an American multi-millionairess from his bed the moment she climbs in.
Róisin Monaghan’s Diane is the complex outcome of a cocktail of neuroses and drugs, threatening in a 4am call (Ireland time) to fly across the Atlantic and kill herself in front of Liam’s house. More fearful possibly, and more immediate for certain, there’s the strong influence of Mrs Clancy, the mother whose insistent concern for his faith Dympna Messenger makes clear, along with worry over the designs a 32 year old woman might have on her 19 year old son.
These glances at the Clancy story give a human context to a slice of transatlantic cultural history, while the interpolated songs from the band’s repertory have a foot-tapping energy or deep-felt melodic richness, from the opener which gives O’Brien his title (and provided Belfast playwright Christina Reid with one of her play’s titles). It’s only a pity they’re often truncated to a single verse. More please.
Ma: Dympna Messenger.
Diane: Róisin Monaghan.
Liam: Toby Lee.
with Godfrey Old.
Director: John Dunne.
Designer: John Dalton.