Review: Be Infants in Evil

The characters in playwright Brian Martin’s controversial debut play are each experiencing a crisis in faith. But is it believable?

Be Infants in Evil

Mick Lally Theatre, Galway


It’s hard to know what to believe these days. Take Fr Patrick (Marty Rea), a hurriedly appointed parish priest in Dublin, whom we first meet in an apparent crisis of faith, furtively eyeing a concealed object. Or his first unexpected visitor, the garrulous, blind biddy, Noeleen (Marion O’Dwyer), intent on making a confession, but who can literally smell trouble: the unmistakable scent of an unfired revolver. Or Jacinta (Roxanna Nic Liam), an inattentive single mother who then arrives in a full Muslim niqab, whose first exclamation – “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” – suggests an incomplete conversion. And all this is before we meet Henry (Bailey Hayden), a 12-year-old boy from London, who, despite stiff competition, will prove to be the play’s most problematic figure.


These are the characters of Brian Martin's debut professional play, staged by Druid and directed by Oonagh Murphy, all of whom seem to occupy quite different planes of reality.

The priest, made stern and sympathetic by Rea, is, if anything, a scientific evangelist, explaining universal entropy and the big bang theory to a mystified congregation. Noeleen (carefully tempered by O’Dwyer) is so implausibly obtuse she belongs to a much broader comedy, yet the play positions her as an idiot savant with divine insight, apparently fed plot points by the Virgin Mary.

Indeed, everyone seems guided by implausible forces. Fr Patrick discovers a pregnancy test in Jacinta’s bag, and it’s positive. Jacinta has scoured internet forums and unearthed Fr Patrick’s darkest secrets. People rush onstage at precisely the most compromising time. In comparison, the plot twists of a Latin-American daytime soap opera seem like a model of painstaking and sober dramaturgy.

As director, Murphy works hard to suspend so many discordant elements within a model of slightly distended realism. Alyson Cummins’s small set is a sombre mahogany-panelled sacristy, as intense as a nucleus, whose folding doors conceal various compartments and oh-so-subtly allude to farce – an immense feat of problem-solving.

But the production struggles to encapsulate competing and confusing forces, and, with the arrival of Henry, it really can’t afford to.

Patrick is tormented by paedophile desire, which he has struggled to suppress, but Henry is depicted as sexually precocious, a pursuer and reciprocator of his desire; in short, Lolita without Nabokov’s deniability and cooling irony. Furthermore, their relationship is sanctioned by Noeleen (“They’re happy together”), whose increasingly secure connection to the divine makes that seem like the official position of the play – and perhaps God.

It’s a shame, because there is something interesting and timely here about moral relativism in a country of collapsing structures, but neither the play, nor the production, seem entirely in control of the provocation or the implications, as though handling a loaded gun with greasy fingers.

It might hope to start a debate, but when it can only conclude at a high pitch of hysteria, it seems more disoriented than enflaming. Until July 26

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

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