THE BIG FELLAH
by Richard Bean.
Out of Joint Tour to 13 November 2010.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 September at Royal and Derngate Northampton.
Where human natures meet organisational discipline.
It’s easy from the British mainland to coagulate the fissures and dynamics across three decades of Northern Ireland terrorism into simply Protestant v Catholic. Viewed from the New York IRA safe house of Richard Bean’s play, the scenes leaping over years between 1972 and the new century reveal subtler impacts of time and events as well as inevitable-seeming pressures towards betrayal.
The Big Fellah demonstrates how even a violent group, rarely more violent than when enforcing internal discipline, still faces leaks. When a character says the IRA would be great if it weren’t for the violence, it’s more than a good line. As the killings mount, taking on new viciousness, they undermine long fought-for, unachieved ideals.
Survival’s probably easiest for the unimaginative psychopath Fred Ridgeway forcefully presents – laconic, staring straight ahead, taking and giving violence silently. A hard man, he’s no Big Fellah – that’s David Costello, in Finbar Lynch’s performance a physically diminutive figure who doesn’t need to shout or exert force. Merely taking his gun out makes the point.
His determination’s driven by a nationalist vision, though not of the socialist utopia some want. Bean’s play is framed by Costello’s contrasting speeches. Happy at civilians’ deaths on Bloody Sunday for its recruitment potential, he can’t reconcile to the Enniskillen war-memorial bombing and a bereaved father’s forgiveness.
You don’t have to betray to become a target. IRA inability to deal with the rising voice of women shows how a pattern of violence easily deals with ideological dissidence. Throughout, Max Stafford-Clark’s fluent production identifies each unseen room, makes all the comings and departures seem natural and pinpoints character relationships.
It’s mainly a male play, for evident reasons, but Stephanie Street and Claire Rafferty identify different women’s roles, while Youssef Kerkour navigates the homophobic bigotry and mental crassness of a true-believing New York policeman. As the safe house’s inhabitants David Ricardo-Pearce and Rory Keenan are alert to every change of emotional temperature.
Bean doesn’t have Sean O’Casey’s deep-etched characters or Brendan Behan’s rough-and-tumble. But he points a convincing telescope on the operation that raised funds for armalites and semtex across three decades.
David Costello: Finbar Lynch.
Ruairi O’Driscoll: Rory Keenan.
Michael Doyle: David Ricardo-Pearce.
Karelma: Stephanie Street.
Tom Billy Coyle: Youssef Kerkour.
Elizabeth Ryan: Claire Rafferty.
Frank McArdle: Fred Ridgeway.
Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer: Tim Shortall.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Nick Manning.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate director: Blanche McIntyre.