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Posts Tagged ‘Rory Keenan’

This is the play that started my obsession with the work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, more than thirty years ago in a Jonathan Miller production with Jack Lemon as James Tyrone and Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone Jnr. I was the same age as James Jnr. Now I’m the same age as James Snr. Subsequent productions had Timothy West and David Suchet as James Snr. The 2000 West End production had Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone, with Olivia Coleman as the Irish maid. Now its the turn of Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

It’s O’Neill’s most biographical play, which he insisted wasn’t published until 25 years after his death, and never staged, but his widow didn’t honour this wish. It’s a long play, 3.5 hours in this Richard Eyre production, part of the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary programme. It takes place over one day and night in one room in the Tyrone home. James is a Shakespearean actor, drinks a lot and is a bit of a bully. His wife became addicted to morphine during her recent illness. Youngest son Edmund is seriously ill. His elder brother has followed his father into acting, more by default than anything else. The only other character is Cathleen, the Irish maid, whose scenes bring some light relief to what is otherwise a rather depressing piece.

Rob Howell’s impressionistic design is beautiful, also lightening the gloom of the play. The performances were a touch tentative at first, but became more natural as the play unfolded. Jeremy Irons’ James is an appropriately charismatic presence as James. The wonderful Lesley Manville navigates Mary’s decline delicately, with carefully controlled emotionality. Rory Keenan plays a spiky James Jnr, under the influence of alcohol most of the time, and Matthew Beard a fragile Edmund, both excellent. I very much liked Jessica Regan’s cameo as Cathleen.

This is a high quality revival and its good to see another Bristol Old Vic production in the West End, but it didn’t engage me emotionally or maintain my attention as it should, probably more to do with me and the night I went. Don’t let me put you off.

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I’ve always thought this early Brian Friel play was amongst his best and this terrific production by Lyndsey Turner at the Donmar Warehouse has added to this conviction. It’s all about the unsaid and the consequences of the unsaid and it’s both funny and desperately sad.

It takes a while to get into as Friel’s device of two actors playing the central character Gar develops its necessary rhythm, but it’s a brilliant idea. ‘Public Gar’ is the master of the unsaid and as a result he never gets the girl, never develops a relationship with his dad and escapes to the US. ‘Private Gar’ tells us what’s going on in his head and by seeing both we see the feelings hidden behind the facial expressions and body language.

Gar lives and works with his widowed dad and housekeeper Madge. His exchanges with the former are entirely without emotion and mostly about the stock in their hardware shop; the latter is a surrogate mum. His inability to say what he feels means he fails to press for the hand of girlfriend Kate. His friends are all bravado, boasting about what they are going to do but doing nothing. Going nowhere, he decides to emigrate and live with his childless aunt in Philadelphia and work in a big store. The play takes place the day before he departs, with the occasional flashback.

It’s surprising how much depth these characters have given we’re with them for less than two hours. Gar is beautifully played by Paul Reid and Rory Keenan, the latter with the challenge of a lot of speedy dialogue and movement. They are only identical in their clothing, but they really do feel like one character. Valerie Lilley captures Madge’s suppressed affection beautifully and James Holmes has to create dad with few words, but does so well.

Rob Howell’s set is a realistic shop and home, with a huge wall of shelves and lights to provide a more impressionistic setting for the more surreal other-worldliness of the play. Lyndsey Turner’s direction has a lightness and playfulness but it’s ultimately deeply moving. It’s hard not to shed a tear at the unfulfilled life that leads to Gar’s escape; I did so at the end.

This is a long overdue and beautifully executed revival and the first big hit in Josie Rourke’s reign at this lovely venue.

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