Tarry Flynn: An old story told with great flair

Pure theatricality of adaptation doesn’t quite compensate for the original’s dated quality

Theatre company Livin’ Dred put on a wild and adventurous staging of Patrick Kavanagh novel


Pavilion Theatre

Patrick Kavanagh’s only novel, Tarry Flynn, encapsulates the full scope of his literary output. He began writing it before his most famous work, The Great Hunger, but it was published after that poem’s success, and it contains all of his key themes in the coming of age tale, as the young eponymous farmer fights against the repression of rural life, the sublimation of sexuality to Catholic strictures, and the suppression of intellectual appetite in favour of physical labour. It is a work firmly rooted in the postcolonial culture of twentieth-century Ireland, yet this stage production from Livin’ Dred finds contemporary joy in a wild and adventurous staging.

Director Aaron Monaghan takes on Conall Morrison’s surreal adaptation with absolute commitment to its physical potential. An ensemble of eight actors shapeshift around the central figure of Tarry (Colin Campbell), shedding characters of animal and human variety against lighting designer Suzie Cummins’s vast projected sky. A chorus of chickens share the narration at the opening, their clucks punctuating the narrative as the oohs and ahs of a gossiping coterie might. Bryan Burroughs tumbles off a bench only to reappear as the backbent Father Anthony. Seamus O’Rourke waddles on stage in yellow rubber as Mrs Callan, fussing after her wandering ducks. The conspiracy of Helen Foy’s costuming with the physical movement in this latter instance adds richness and depth to a throwaway character that is typical of this brilliantly conceived production, which pays concentrated attention to all the integral elements of theatricality.

Alas, even the hustle and dance of bovine sex and the consequential birth of calf cannot compensate for a story so rooted in its time and a script so capacious and unfocused. As the production heads into its final third and the running time moves beyond the 140-minute mark, it becomes apparent that the storytelling here is superior to the story being told.


On Tour: An Grianan, Letterkenny, April 6th and 7th; Droichead Arts Centre, April 9th and 10th