by Brendan Behan.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright’s Yard corner of Tooley Street &.Bermondsey Street, SE1 2TF. To 20 February 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 February.
Boisterous revival hits the boards.
Ireland’s wild boy Brendan Behan,, transported on a Liffey of Guinness, shut out from performances of his own play in 1958 for his tendency to interrupt them, could outdo any of the local literary roughs. Brendan the bomber would be dead six years later at 41, and a drinker for 33 of those years.
He was brought into the West End via the East End, and the genius of Joan Littlewood – whose best-remembered creations are from plays part-written at best by writers – and her Theatre Workshop. Its verve and energy might hide that nothing much happens, apart from the demolition of romantic myths about political struggle.
Jagged Fence’s Southwark revival has the necessary energy while the dramatic casus belli, a young English soldier held captive against the execution of an IRA prisoner, takes a back seat (Behan, or in his alcoholic absence Littlewood and company, made the outcome a matter of accident not tactics).
He coincides with Irish theatrical predecessors Synge (wisps of plot similarities with Playboy of the Western World) and O’Casey (the unheroical realism of characters), while looking-forward stylistically to 7:84 Theatre and John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil.
Adam Penford’s energetic production makes up for limited floor-space by exploiting the increased scope for noisy bustle provided by designer Morgan Large’s rickety steps and upper landing leading-off to where the whores whore. They’re sympathetic in their variety, from Jess Murphy’s openly sexy Colette to the tight-clad respectability veiling lust in Rhiannon Oliver’s Miss Gilchrist.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Battersby’s demented old soldier goes through military rituals, proud as an O’Casey Paycock. This is life for Behan, benignly presided over by Stephanie Fayerman’s confident Meg and the tactful, tactical humanity of Gary Lilburn’s equally fine Pat. It’s the IRA men who are stupid or pompous. Even their captive is more sympathetic in his working-class realisation the British government don’t care half a fig for him.
By the highest standards, this might be the simulacrum of the organised chaos Littlewood’s tight troupe originally created. But it comes close enough to revive the sense of how it was.
Rio Rita: Chris Aylmer.
Monsewer: Jonathan Battersby.
IRA Officer: Charles de Bromhead.
Teresa: Emily Dobbs.
Feargus O’Connor/Russian Sailor: Christopher Doyle.
Meg: Stephanie Fayerman.
Leslie Williams: Ben James-Ellis.
Pat: Gary Lilburn.
Mr Mulleady: Oengus MacNamara.
Princess Grace: Miles Mlambo.
Colette: Jess Murphy.
Miss Gilchrist: Rhiannon Oliver.
Kate: Caitlin Shannon.
Director/Choreographer: Adam Penford.
Designer: Morgan Large.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Musical Director: Caitlin Shannon.
Jig/Reel Choreographer: Christopher Doyle.