Cork Arts Theatre, Cork
The late Bridget O’Connor might not have shuddered at the description of her play as hilarious. It has its moments of comedy and might have had more if director Dylan Kennedy remembered that, to be dramatically effective, comedy requires ruthlessness. The suspicion is that in this production for Red ‘n Blue Theatre Company the playwright has been treated with a respect that forbids dissection.
So hilarity wins out in this tale of two hapless beach lifeguards whose ambitions so far outstrip their capabilities that their dream world of upward mobility depends on their shared delusions. The play was written in the 1990s, when even vocabulary was being gentrified, so they imagine themselves as leisure operatives at Banna Beach, a location pronounced, possibly with local accuracy, to rhyme with banana.
Like a sandy Miss Havisham clutching a bouquet of seaweed, Jenny Fennessy ignites the demented Ursula as the core of the play
Their fantasy has a past; JJ (Darragh Feehely) has constructed a Californian career based on a big lie, while his minor colleague Howie (Dylan Kennedy) depends on a litany of bereavements to give him personal validity. O’Connor upends this relationship by allowing the inarticulate Howie a weak but nonetheless significant moral awareness, a quality that survives events such as the eruption of an escapee from a convent incarceration.
Like a sandy Miss Havisham clutching a bouquet of seaweed, Jenny Fennessy ignites the demented Ursula as the core of the play, her plight a vicious commentary on that Ireland of nods, winks and elbows in the ribs, of sneers and eyebrows raised against self-betterment. By no means outdated, this cultural undergrowth is personified in town councillor Brendan, a malevolent Pecksniff privy to all the guilt and duplicity of his community. Played to the hilt of a honed rapier by Sean Ahern, this is where O’Connor shows her rage as Brendan punctures the golden lads of long ago and tenderly guides Ursula, a half-drowned Ophelia waking up in the wrong stream, back to the nuns.
Until June 11th in Cork; 15th-18th Garter Lane, Waterford