On McQuillan’s Hill by Joseph Crilly. The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 to 29 February 2020. 4****. William Russell,

On McQuillan’s Hill
By Joseph Crilly
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 29 February 2020.
Tues-Sun 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Tickets: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 7 February.

Joe Orton would have envied this sparkling black comedy set in Ulster just after the Good Friday agreement was reached as it plumbs every depth you can think of and leaves the audience breathless, shocked and enlightened. It opens in the local community hall somewhere near Derry where Theresa Maline is planning a welcome home from prison party for her father Fra, an alleged IRA hero with a volcanic temper and a taste for drink. It proves a riotous affair, Fra turning up to discover his old boyfriend, Dessie, a local businessman and compadre, who just happens to employ Theresa and has recently fired her. Sister Loretta has also arrived in town after years away and unknown to everybody has bought the hall and has employed another IRA soldier, Ray McCullion, to renovate the place. The mix is combustible. Nobody knows about the lovers, Fra isn’t Theresa’s father, and you can take it from there as the hypocrisy and double standards of all concerned are revealed. Crilly has created a portrait of small town Irish life which is scathing and hilarious – everything from incest to treachery and ideals flaunted but sometimes not followed create a tale that does remind one of how Orton in his day took a scalpel to the social pretensions and deceits of the people he was writing about.
This is the London premiere of the play, which was first staged 20 years ago in Belfast, and one does wonder why it has taken so long to reach these shore. It has been directed with the necessary speed by Jonathan Harden and is very strongly cast. If there has to be a quibble it is that the Ulster accents are strong, speeches are delivered at a rate of knots and it takes time to get accustomed to, but when it does Act Two, when the revelations explode, is both funny and very sad. It may be farce, but these are real people and Theresa learns some appalling things, finds a mother who abandoned her at birth while the others get their deserts – or some of them do. Over it all presides the hall caretaker, Mrs Tymelly, a wonderful cardigan clad old biddy with high moral standards revealed to be as sham as those of pretty well everyone else. Helena Bereen is a wonderfully smug Mrs Tymelly, Gina Costigan and Julie Maguire are touching as the angry and abused Maline women, while Declan Rodgers makes the handyman Ray an impressively lusty but creepy hunk, nowhere near as tough as he pretends, who gets what he deserves – twice. As for the double act of Dessie and Fra, Kevin Murphy and Johnny Vivash, are hilarious, the one revealing just what a self serving horror Dessie is perfectly, the other that beneath those whiskey fuelled rages Fra is no hero who has kept secret where the arms were hidden all those years.
As so often at the Finborough the designer, in this case Norman Coates, has worked miracles to transform the acting space. The sludge green hell hole of a hall is a perfect creation. Martin McDonagh is the other Irish writer whose name springs to mind, but for me it was Orton. The strange thing is that one man was murdered, the other killed himself.
Mrs Tymelly: Helena Bereen.
Loretta Maline: Gina Costigan.
Theresa Maline: Julie Maguire.
Dessie Rigg: Kevin Murphy.
Ray McCullion: Declan Rodgers.
Fra Maline: Johnny Vivash.

Director: Jonathan Harden.
Set & Costume Designer: Norman Coates.
Lighting Designer: Mike Robertson.
Composer: Declan Freenan.
Fight Director: Philipd’Orleans.
Production Photographs: Bronwen Sharp.

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