THE BIG FELLAH: Richard Bean.
Joint Stock, Touring to 13 November.
Runs: 2h 25m, inc one interval.
Review: Rod Dungate, Birmingham Rep, 10.11.10
A sparkling and dark play to stimulate and tickle your intellect.
Richard Bean’s play looks at the history of the Irish ‘Troubles’ but from (for us in the UK) an unusual perspective – the support and activity among Irish and Irish immigrants living in the US – in this case New York. The IRA was obtaining significant support in personnel, arms and finance from the States during the years of the dispute. To look at some 30 years is a big task in a play, but Bean makes it manageable by making it human.
New York fireman, Michael Doyle is recruited into supporting the IRA and his house then becomes a safe house for IRA personnel on the run from the UK. This includes Ruairi O’Driscoll, on the run for being a driver for someone who shot a soldier, and who becomes something of a celebrity in the US and, eventually, a US citizen.
Bean has a fine understanding of the politics and the debates in his play are serious and thought-provoking. Yet he has a sharp wit, too, and the play is peppered with painful laughs. Intriguingly the result is a play which presents these ‘soldiers’ as a ramshackle crowd driven by passion for a cause about which they understand little and blindly following orders which at best make little sense and at worst are hideously cruel and cost lives. This play is comic, yet, lest we forget around 3,500 people died since 1969 in the conflict, there are moments in the play that are truly shocking.
And it all leads to a devastatingly ironic conclusion.
This is a strong company and Max Stafford-Clark has created a production in which the acting disappears behind characters and story. The style fits, hand-in-glove, with the story’s context.
David Ricardo-Pearce and Rory Keenan confidently and unobtrusively lead the play as New Yorker Michael Doyle and fugitive Ruairi O’Driscoll; they create homely people, somehow good people – who are horribly caught up in terrible things. Fred Ridgeway’s IRA Security Officer is a darkly, darkly comic gem.
David Costello: Finbar Lynch.
Ruairi O’Driscoll: Rory Keenan
Michael Doyle: David Ricard-Pearce
Karelma: Stephanie street.
Tom Billy Coyle: Youssef Kerkour.
Elizabeth Ryan: Claire Rafferty.
Frank McArdle: Fred Ridgeway.
Director: Max Stafford-clark.
Designer: Tim Shortfall.
Lighting Designer: Jason DTalylor.
Sound Designer: Nick Manning.
Associate Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Fight Director: Terry King.
Dialect Coach; Charmian Hoare.