PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME!
by Brian Friel.
Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street Seven Dials WC2H 9LX To 22 September 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 15 Sept 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 10 Sept.
Runs 2hr One interval.
0844 871 7624.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 August.
Strong revival of early play by an instinctive dramatist.
Behind the title of Brian Friel’s early play echoes a song about another US state, Al Jolson’s ‘California, here I come/ Right back where I started from’. Fitting, as young Gar O’Donnell’s impending flight from Friel’s small Irish town of Ballybeg to a new life in America will simply take him to more of the same in a new place. For the flashback to a visit from ex-pat family members, which leads to the Philadelphia invitation, makes clear that, beneath the loud American confidence, Gar will merely find himself treated as a substitute for the child the Irish-Americans never had.
There’s none of Jolson’s swagger in Friel, as he reveals Gar’s dried-up life in the family business he’d looked-up to as a boy, run by the father who buries emotion in routine, while the humourlessly jolly priest bringing predictable contributions to the perpetually moribund conversation is equally in Friel’s ironic grip.
The characters are mostly men, and they create this stultified society. In the second act the male posturing of Gar’s friends falls progressively apart to reveal lives as stifled as his. Gar’s timidity in face of the lovely and socially superior Kate Doogan spurs him to leave. His problem is a shared inability to acknowledge, let alone express, emotional warmth.
Many writers would have made the point explicit in an argument or soliloquy. Friel combines the best of both by doing neither, splitting Gar’s public behaviour and private thoughts between two actors (a device Alan Bennett later used in The Lady in the Van). The result’s a tension between sadness and comedy as Rory Keenan’s interior self urges on Paul Reid’s willing but easily abashed public Gar.
Lyndsey Turner’s fast-paced, vivid Donmar production shows the simultaneous humour and torment in Gar’s situation, and the society around. So, there’s sympathy even for James Hayes’ gravely detailed portrayal of Gar’s father. And Laura Donnelly’s Kate, another prisoner of reticence.
Through it all trudges Valerie Lilley, splendid as the housekeeper who accepts her own defeats while doing small acts of kindness as she dispenses barbs of criticism at the follies around her.
Madge: Valerie Lilley.
Gar (in public): Paul Reid.
Gar (in private): Rory Keenan.
S B O’Donnell: James Hayes.
Kate Doogan: Laura Donnelly.
Senator Doogan/Master Boyle/Con Sweeney: Ruairi Conaghan.
Lizzhy Sweeney: Julia Swift.
Ben Burton/Canon Mick O’Byrne: Benny Young.
Ned: Killian Burke.
Joe: Dylan Kennedy.
Tom: Conor Macneill.
Director: Lyndsey Turner.
Designer: Rob Howell.
Lighting: Tim Lutkin.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Dialect coach: Tim Charrington.
Assistant director: Hannah Price.