23 February 2014

Finian's Rainbow - Union Theatre, Sunday 16th February 2014

Finian McLonergan arrives in Rainbow Valley,, with his daughter, Sharon, and a "borrowed" pot of gold. His theory is to plant the gold near Fort Knox. Surely it will multiply just as America's bullion burial has made all Americans rich. They encounter poor sharecroppers who are about to lose their land. Henchmen of Senator Billboard Rawkins are ready to pay back taxes and take over. However, his plan is foiled by Woody, who returns from the big city with the tax money, and by Finian, who covers the hidden charges when Woody cannot. In exchange, Finian gets property rights for enough land to sow his golden dream.  
While Sharon and Woody are falling in love, Og, a leprechaun, confronts Finian and demands the return of his pot of gold, without which he will start to become human and mortal. But Finian ignores him, as a figment of his imagination. Geologists, working on a secret dam project, detect gold on the sharecroppers' land. Learning this, Rawkins moves in to take the land by force. As he is manhandling a Negro sharecropper, Sharon wishes that Rawkins was black. Unwittingly, she is standing over the magical pot, and her wish is granted. Rawkins dashes into hiding.  
A telegram arrives from Shears and Robust granting unlimited credit to the people of the gold-rich valley. Woody persuades them to use the credit to buy tractors and equipment to improve the harvest. Without his gold, Og will become mortal. However, his search for the pot is interrupted by Sharon with whom he immediately falls in love. When Shears and Robust arrive to collect for all the merchandise, Woody satisfies them with proof of future profit. The McLonergan economic theory is working, but Sharon is charged with witchcraft and the mysterious disappearance of Rawkins. Og encounters Billboard in the woods and magically improves his disposition. Arriving back in the Valley, Og encounters Susan the Silent. Love strikes again, only harder. He also learns Sharon is to be burned as a witch unless a white Rawkins can be found. Og believes Susan can tell him where the gold is hidden and so wishes. She talks. He is sitting above the crock. He unearths the pot and makes the final wish that saves Sharon for Woody, but renders himself completely mortal. But Og has Susan. Finian, having proven his theory without a shadow of doubt, moves on to spread joy elsewhere. 

Finian McLonegan – James Horne 
Sharon – Christina Bennington 
Og – Raymond Walsh 
Senator Rawkins – Michael Hayes 
Sherrif – David Malcolm 
Woody – Joseph Peters 
Susan – Laura Bella Griffin 

Creative Team: 
Adaptation – Charlotte Moore 
Drector – Phil Willmott 
Choreography – Thomas Michael Voss 
Costumes – Kirk Jameson 

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting and I still don’t know whether I got it or not. What an odd, odd show. I have to say that I think the cast did the best they could with this oddity, which is really neither fish nor fowl. To call the plot “paper thin” is really to insult thin paper. And SUCH a strange story, made even stranger by having to be toned down so as not to offend any sensibilities. Let’s get it straight – in the show as originally written and performed, Senator Rawkins issues an edict preventing black people and white people from living and working together. He manhandles a black woman (for “manhandle” I suspect “assaults” or even “attempts to rape” would be more accurate). As punishment, he is turned into a black man so that he can experience how black people are treated. This, I suspect, would have Guardian readers the length and breadth of the country rising up in arms, so all three points have been quietly glossed over in this production. Unfortunately, doing so rather takes the wind out of the storyline. Senator Rawkins remains white, and merely becomes “nice” as opposed to “nasty”. This fails to explain to the audience exactly why Rawkins is turned away from his home and put out of a job. Are we supposed to believe that nobody recognises him just because he is wearing a smile instead of a frown? It also fails to explain why he loses his nice clothes and appears after his “transformation” wearing a slightly grubby Tshirt and a pair of tattered jeans. As it is, it makes no sense. 

Not that the story makes much sense anyway. A man steals a pot of gold from a leprechaun, and then goes to America to bury it. The leprechaun follows him, discovers women and becomes human. A mute girl finds the pot of gold and acquires the ability to speak. The gold is used to buy a farm, an evil politician is punished by being turned black, learns the error of his ways and everyone lives happily ever after. I mean, what were the writers smoking? Were they going for whimsy or hard hitting social comment? A love story or a supernatural story in the vein of Brigadoon? But with Irish characters instead of Scottish ones? Honestly, there are parts of this that are so hokey with stereotypes (Irish colleens, leprechauns, Boss Hogg-esque Senators, black sharecroppers a la Gone with the Wind) that sitting through it becomes a constant effort not to vomit. The “twee” element is so “twee” that it “out-twees” anything I’ve ever seen. Mind you, the auditorium was so full of stage mist (presumably to make everything look soft focus and dreamy) that for quite some time I couldn’t see much of anything anyway. 

And the director missed something – the show is called “Finian’s Rainbow” – and nary a rainbow was there in sight, even right at the end when one is supposed to appear with the first drops of rain that Rainbow Valley has apparently seen in some time.. A budget production this may be – but I think there should be some attempt at putting some kind of meteorological effect on the stage, even if it were only made out of strips of coloured paper. Sometimes, I think it is better that a show slips into theatrical oblivion and dies a quiet death. Finian’s Rainbow is one of those shows. The plot is laughable, has to be changed to fit “modern sensibilities”, and can’t even be filed under “period whimsy” any more. Presumably set in the late 30s (there are references to the land being worn out through over-cultivation and everyone is hungry, so we are well into Grapes of Wrath territory here), this production has more of a late 40s feel – everyone is nice and clean, tidily and neatly dressed, well shod, recently coiffured and happy. There is little evidence of hunger or misery. Its all nicely sung, and there is lots of dancing. But nothing can hide the utter vacuousness and paucity of the plot. Personally its not something I would care to sit through again. 

What the critics thought: 





No comments: