A twist in the tail

The mouse hero of Pat McCabe’s children’s story knows how to work a crowd. It’s just as well this production comes with its own onstage audience

The Adventures of Shay Mouse

Nun's Island Theatre, Galway

Like most characters in Pat McCabe's 1995 stage adaptation of his 1985 children's story, Shay Mouse knows how to work a crowd. This is just as well, because the huge cast of this co-production between Galway Community Theatre and Galway Youth Theatre provides every scene with an onstage audience.

It even takes a while for them to amass onstage – a woodland menagerie of badgers and foxes, frogs and ferrets, robins and squirrels – fetchingly designed by Mary Doyle as the cardboard wonderland of Bornacoola, like a cross between school-play scenography and a pop-up book. Here they listen to the tall tales of one immodest mouse.


There was that time he beat up a cat. Or lamped 40 earwigs. Or ran six rats out of town. So, when a pack of rats in similarly elaborate make-up, creative masks and leather jackets invade the wood, Shay seems like the go-to rodent to defend these trusting creatures. Shay, of course, is all-talk and runs for his life.

The moral of McCabe's tale is all to do with character building and gathering stories. Shay's travels bring him to various far-flung exotic destinations, such as Longford, Westmeath and Dublin, but director Andrew Flynn recognises them all as imagined, Americanised places and Carl Kennedy's music, infused with rhythm and blues and sometimes jazz, knows the score.

Each new adventure seems to expose Shay’s gullibility – keeping watch while two predators raid a farmer’s chicken coop, or being swindled by Honest Sid Swift’s Travelling Roadshow – before realising some clever form of violent retribution. Onstage, this begins to feel endlessly episodic, and even those who object to the scapegoating of rats (seeking a homeland “free from persecution”) will begin praying for resolution as Shay journeys from one crowd scene to another.

Flynn finds witty touches, such as a series of outlandish tableaux to match Shay’s many bogus accomplishments. But while he and the confidant performer Jarlath Tivnan work well to create a sprightly hero in Shay, they rarely show him humbled, surveying scenes of joy or peril with his arms and legs akimbo, or flaring up a pipe in moments of triumph. C’mon, Shay, I wondered, are you a mouse or a man?

Until July 28th

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture