Review | Are You There Garth? It’s Me, Margaret: Brooks fans have suffered enough without this witless ‘comedy’

What starts out as a lame script turns desperate and then ugly, and all for the love of Garth

Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Margaret (Deirdre O'Kane), a stoic mother of three, certainly doesn't have it easy. In fact her life is such a catalogue of woes, steadily itemised from behind her ironing board in Fiona Looney's remarkably misguided new play, that she could give your average country song a run for its money: her youngest son has autism, her daughter is being bullied, her eldest son is sitting his Junior Cert, her husband has lost his job and most of his spirit, and she can only confide this in an unseen Garth Brooks.

Brooks is addressed here in the same way Shirley Valentine once spoke to her wall, but elevated to the status of a minor deity. “All this meandering really does have a purpose,” Margaret tells the man she associates with the flowering of her romance long ago. It is foretold that he will come again – for five concerts at Croke Park (subject to licence) – and so Margaret pins her hopes and dreams to Garth’s arrival. What could possibly go wrong?

Turning overblown national psychodramas into commercial comedies has become a curious subgenre in Irish theatre, a lucrative invitation towards healing that has so far given us I, Keano, Anglo: The Musical and now – Garth help us – this. Looney presents last year's fiasco as an emphatically man-made debacle (the play has nothing good to say about the Y chromosome) and Maclean Burke, Jonathan White and Stephen Jones oblige with uniformly stupid representations of avaricious GAA officials, objecting local residents, dim-witted Dublin City councillors, various expedient politicians, and a disingenuous Brooks himself with a Stetson-festooned entourage.


O’Kane’s character ought to be more sympathetic, a human face on 400,000 inconvenienced ticket-holders, but Looney’s monologues hammer all pathos into bathos. Despite the potential of Kate Moylan’s quite considered set, director Padraic McIntyre finds little to do with the stage other than shunt Margaret between her laundry and kitchen as she continues to remonstrate with Brooks. (Finally, you don’t blame the guy for staying low.)

With little decent material here and no engaging ways to express it, the comedy begins as merely lame, before acquiring a desperate edge – if a "mediator" is introduced you can bet someone will ask him to contact a dead spirit – and finally an ugly one. You can just about get away with suggesting Barack Obama might care more about soul music than country, but – bizarre as his intervention was – representing the Mexican ambassador as a tequila-toting, poncho and sombrero clad ethnic cliché is something worse than witless. Haven't Brooks fans suffered enough?

Until Oct 25

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

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