15 February 2010

A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre, Wednesday 10th February 2010

In 1964 in Dublin, Ireland, Alfie Byrne is the director of an amateur theatre troupe that has been shut down by Father Kenny. The group, The St. Imelda's Players, is based at the church. Alfie, a bus conductor, wants to stage a production of Oscar Wildes Salome at his church, despite the objections of church authorities.

As he reflects on events, the actors in the troup become, in effect, a Greek chorus and take him through a typical day of "A Man of No Importance", in the form of a play in which he is not the director but the star. As the "play" unfolds, the people in Alfie's life appear: his sister Lily, a handsome bus driver Robbie Fay, and newcomer Adele Rice. Alfie "performs" by speaking Wilde's words to Adele, impressing the bus passengers (who are members of the acting group). As Alfie prepares dinner for himself and Lily, he tells her that he has met a woman. Lily has delayed marriage with her boyfriend Mr. Carney to take care of Alfie until he marries, and is happy for him. Alfie explains that he is not interested in marriage to Adele--he wants her to act in Salome. Frustrated, Lily castigates Alfie for wasting his time in amateur theatre. After an evening in a pub, Alfie returns home, confused about his true identity. As he gazes at himself in the mirror, he sees Oscar Wilde in a dream, and admits that he loves Robbie. After a rehearsal of Salome, Lily invites Adele for Sunday dinner, saying that Alfie is hesitant to speak for himself. As Alfie is walking her home, Adele tells him that she has a boyfriend, John, in her home town and starts crying. Alfie, understanding about secrets, advises "Love Who You Love".

Breton Beret propositions Alfie, and Alfie is trapped between his own shame and desire, but Oscar Wilde again advises him that the way to eliminate temptation is by giving in.

Alfie is confessing to Father Kenny his minor sins. He hears Robbie in a disembodied voice, but he cannot confess to his feelings. The troup is rehearsing, when Adele suddenly cries and tells Alfie that she is pregnant, then leaves. At an emergency church meeting the play Salome is deemed "blasphemous". Monsignor cancels it and orders that the St. Imelda's Players be ended. Alfie, feeling sad, goes to the pub and propositions Breton Beret. Breton takes Alfie's hand, caresses him, but next punches Alfie. Others beat him and he asks for Robbie. Lily and Carney take Alfie home, but the news spreads that Alfie is gay. Finally, Alfie is alone at St. Imelda's hall and thinks back on his life, coming to know that he can no longer hide. A ray of sunlight enters the dimly lit room as Robbie walks in. A passage from Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol is read by Robbie as a member of the new acting troup.

Alfie – Paul Clarkson
Carney – Paul Monaghan
Robbie – Patrick Kelliher
Adele – Roisin Sullivan
Lily – Joanna Nevin
Baldy – Anthony Cable
Father Kenny – Anthony Cable
Breton Beret – Dieter Thomas
and Barra Collins, Nicola Redman, Jamie Honeybourne, Emily Juler, Daniel Magure, Ruth Berkeley, Niall Sheehy, Kimberley Ensor and Adam Davenport

Creative Team:
Book: Terence McNally
Music: Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Director: Ben De Wynter
Musical Director: Chris Peak
Designer: James Turner
Lighting: Steve Miller

Feeling somewhat like an Irish version of The Baker’s Wife in its portrayal of close-knit community life and featuring a play-quoting bus conductor and his devoted spinster sister, a stage-struck butcher quoting Wilde to his pork chops and the various misfits, frustrated Juliets, inept leading men and the general flotsam and jetsam that comprise any amateur dramatics group you might care to mention, this was a happy little show well suited to the shabby, rather amateurish surroundings of The Arts Theatre, a rather neglected little outpost of the theatrical arts just off Charing Cross Road. Him Indoors was practically frothing at the mouth with excitement as in all his many, many years of theatre-going (his collection of playscripts and programmes is so enormous that it could be used to insulate the loft of the Houses of Parliament and I deeply regret the day he found that he could buy them on Ebay) he’d never heard of it or seen it; as we eased ourselves into possibly the most uncomfortable theatre seats in London save those at the Royal Court, he was almost incoherent with anticipation, bless him. There was a general studenty feel to the rest of the audience, with quite a high PPSI ratio (regular readers of this blog won’t need this acronym expanding, and if you aren’t a regular reader, why not?). The plot pootled along merrily just like the bus that Alfie spends his working life on until it hit a very dark pothole in the road about four-fifths of the way into the second half, causing the entire play to come to an unexpected, shuddering halt. By the time the engine was running again, the show was nearly over and it was almost too late to repair the damage. This, I think, is a major fault of the book itself rather than of the obviously happy band of people in this production, and one of the reasons that the show has never really found an enormous audience.

There were some excellent central performances here – notably Paul Clarkson, Roisin Sullivan and Paul Monaghan, although I do question the wisdom of having the latter double the small, shadowy role of Oscar Wilde; I’m sure that another member of the cast without such a large role could have taken this on – it confused me briefly until I realised exactly what was happening. Special mention must go to Jamie Honeybourne for his portrayal of Ernie; why is it that knitted bobble-hats are so funny, particularly when they are worn with glasses?

It’s a shame about that pothole though; if it had arrived earlier then there would have been scope to turn the play into a different, darker journey.  As it was, it seems a slightly uncomfortable, unfinished piece.

What the critics thought:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Father Kenny was played by A.J. O'Neill