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Posts Tagged ‘Denis Conway’

Neil McCormick was at school in Dublin with a boy called Paul Hewson. They both had bands, Neil with his brother Ivan, who played briefly with Hewson’s band and could have been part of it. Hewson started using his nickname Bono, and the rest is history. After abandoning his own musical career, McCormick went on to be a rock journalist, spending the last twenty-two years with the Daily Telegraph, contributing to U2’s biography. This play is based on his memoir, originally entitled I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger, filmed as Killing Bono, now on stage as Chasing Bono.

The adaptation is by comedy royalty Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, responsible for sitcoms like Porridge, gritty comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet and the screenplay for one of the greatest rock films ever, The Commitments. They were also responsible for the screenplay of Killing Bono, introducing a plot device where McCormick is kidnapped by gangster Danny Machin (a real character in McCormick’s history) so that he can write about him and whitewash his reputation. We move between scenes of imprisonment and flashbacks to their youth. In a lovely touch, McCormick’s own music is resurrected and played live by the actors playing the brothers.

I’ve never seen such as detailed design at Soho Theatre as Max Dorey’s brilliant cottage, with an office above. The performances are excellent, led by Niall McNamee as McCormick and Denis Conway as Machin, with a lovely cameo from Ciaran Dowd as Machin’s sidekick. I found Gordon Anderson’s production charming, but it left me wanting more. At eighty minutes (shorter than the film, with a lot less of the story) it felt insubstantial, perhaps unfinished. The audience that lapped it up seemed full of U2 fans, so I was glad I didn’t wear my ‘Make Bono History’ t-shirt, a satirical comment on the multi-millionaire tax-dodger’s anti-poverty campaign!

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Martin McDonagh has cornered the market in dark comedies; his next play is actually called A Very Very Very Dark Matter. We don’t know how dark that will be but, at least until then, this is the darkest of the seven I’ve seen. It’s the second in an unfinished trilogy, and I don’t think it’s been in London since its premiere 17 years ago, though we did see the first in the trilogy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, by the same company five years ago. That’s long enough for me to have forgotten much of it’s twists and turns, to be shocked, horrified and thrilled by it all over again.

Irish republican terrorist Padraic is too violent for the IRA and fast becoming unacceptable to the INLA too, but he’s very fond of his cat Wee Thomas, so much so that he aborts a torturing to return home when he hears the cat is poorly. Back home his dad Donny and neighbour Davey concoct an elaborate but clumsy plot to cover up Wee Thomas’ death, whilst his true killers, an INLA splinter group led by Christy, plan to put an end to Padraic. Davey’s sister Mairead has her heart set on both a terrorist career and Padraic’s affections.

I’d forgotten how violent and gory it gets, and the twists and turns that drive the black comedy forward. You find yourself turning your head from the violence whilst laughing uproariously at the absurdities. It’s a brave man who satirises terrorism, particularly in the early 90’s, but in the end, in McDonagh’s own words, it’s ‘a violent play that is wholeheartedly anti-violence’ and there’s no-one else who can combine satire with black comedy with ultraviolence, as Anthony Burgess named it.

It’s clear that much of the audience is there to see Aidan Turner, who is excellent, and if that fills a West End theatre for quality drama, that’s OK by me. Hopefully, it won’t detract from seven other fine performances, chief amongst them the auspicious professional stage debut of Chris Walley, who has already wowed me in both the TV series’ and film of The Young Offenders. With Denis Conway terrific as his partner-in-crime Donny, they make a great double-act. You struggle to accept Charlie Murphy’s Mairead as a sixteen-year-old (as you do Turner as twenty) but it’s a fine performance nonetheless. A largely Irish cast bring an authenticity to the piece.

I liked designer Christopher Oram’s cottage, but I wasn’t sure about the idea of scene’s in front of his frontispiece. The blood splattering effects in Michael Grandage’s production were superb. I’m not sure the insertion of an interval, no doubt to boost bar profits for DMT, helped, but it didn’t hinder as much as I thought it might. A fine revival which has whetted my appetite for his new play in October.

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