The Poor Mouth
Project Arts Centre, Dublin ***
But Jocelyn Clarke’s adaptation by the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, directed by Niall Henry, isn’t looking for sympathy, obviously. Flann O’Brien’s An Béal Bocht was to Peig and An t-Oileánach what Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is to the occupants of the 46A.
The Poor Mouth completes Blue Raincoat’s trilogy of At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman, the third instalment with a text that is not only inferior to the preceding two, but also disconnected from it, and distinctive in its comparative frivolity. Indeed, it was published not under Flann, but Myles na gCopaleen, drawing the distinction heavier still.
The satire still stings, though, and as a standalone piece, O’Brien’s brilliantly contorted sentences fall as piercingly as the rain against the lime-washed houses nestled throughout the dark glen. The occasional absurdist inclusion of people as animals – squealing pigs and masticating cows – is slightly off-putting, not least because it highlights how close man and mammal’s environments once were.
As just over an hour and a half of vignettes play out, the Gaels spend their time trying to get one over the outsiders, like Del Boy down the market. But even given temporary victories, their fate is inescapably sealed in an ouroboros of poverty and misery, with gag set-ups you could see coming from over the mountain.
Such a narrative-heavy piece on stage locks the gaze on the storyteller, Bonaparte O’Coonassa, played by Ruth Lehane, who has a solid grip on the mammoth prose and becomes increasingly believable as a gombeen whose ignorance is only matched by his innocence, assisted by Barry McKinney’s well-executed lighting design and Joe Hunt’s soundtrack.
But it’s when the sobriety cuts through the satire, when the light dims across the flat map, and the slapstick is dispensed with, that The Poor Mouth shows its dark heart with some success.
Until November 24th