Nothing PC in this unreal world


TAKE a human cannonball called Zulu who wants to be "exposed" to the world in her full glory, her sidekick Delilah who lights the match, and two very married lawyers who are anxious to give their wives the slip for a night of forbidden fun. Add a one armed old colonial who shoots anything that moves and a railway porter who has just discovered he is a Father, to five grown up children. Garnish with disguise, coincidence, sexual innuendo, mistaken identity and a bad case of varicose veins. The result Bernard Farrell's play, Petty Sessions, written 15 years ago for the Abbey and now revived in a new production by Red Kettle Theatre Company in Waterford.

I was working on the play when, I came across Dion Boucicault's farce, Forbidden Fro it, first produced in London in the 1870s, on which I decided to base part of my plot, about two fellas planning to get away from their wives. I transposed the scene from London to Dublin, and had the two men pretending to take a train to Wexford, but actually getting off at Sydney Parade in order to come back for a night of dalliance." One of the gallants manages this doubling back trick, only to run into his wife. In Boucicault's play, he disguises himself as an old man but Farrell decided to go further "I thought that for a farce it would be much better to have him disguise him self as a woman.

Farrell notes that although there are some farcical scenes in most of his other plays from I Do Not Like The Doctor Fell to Happy Birthday. Dear Alice Petty Sessions is the only play he has written which is farce and nothing else "It is intended as a good night out where you leave everything at the door except your sense of humour." There is no "deep social message", he says, except perhaps that Arthur realises what women have to deal with in life when he disguises himself as a woman.

Farrell has long been a fan of farce, both French (Feydeau) and American (Laurel and Hardy) he also adored the pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Dublin when he was a child. He is not so keen on British farce, which he feels can be crude "It is full of fat ladies and men dropping their trousers." He notes that there is no real tradition of Irish farce.

Once you sit down to write a farce, subtlety is not an ingredient that comes to mind. Petty Sessions is no exception, extracting every possible connotation from the cannonball motif and, when it comes to the one armed Jack, from all the "hand" gags you could possibly imagine. Farrell says "Farce is not about being PC. Everyone, knows this is not the real world.