The Snapper ★★★
The Gate Theatre, Dublin
How well do you remember The Snapper?
The second novel in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy is as secure and uncomplicated a part of Irish nostalgia as the good feeling of Italia ’90 (from the same year) and as pleasingly fuzzy in the mind as a VHS recording of Stephen Frears’s 1993 film adaptation.
The Rabbitte family are there forever, in a brash allegro of exasperation, raised voices and the loving good humour that makes “eejit” a term of endearment. It’s funny to consider, then, that Sharon Rabbitte’s baby would now be almost 30. What would that Barrytown millennial make of Doyle’s new stage adaptation for the Gate?
The rebirth of The Snapper comes with some intriguing adjustments. It begins, for instance, not with Jimmy Rabbitte Snr's immortal line "You're wha?", but Hazel Clifford's fretting Sharon, in a sky-blue pinafore dress, yelling, "I'm pregnant!" It's significantly less funny, but subtly re-orienting.
The novel is written chiefly in dialogue (and Doyle is so faithful to it that The Snapper seems nostalgic for itself), but the perspective passes, touchingly, between father and daughter. The stage version, directed with rough and ready, neon-bright energy by Róisín McBrinn, makes it a family story with Sharon as its centre. (Another significant early modification is that now, when the subject of abortion is raised, it is rejected but not wholly repudiated: "Don't be calling it murder," says Hilda Fay's terrific Veronica, more sympathetic with the benefit of hindsight.)
In most other regards, to the delight of fans, Doyle is reluctant to make changes. Sharon won’t name the father and rumours abound; Simon Delaney’s charming Jimmy Rabbitte Snr is a man entirely out of his depth, doing his heart-warming best (Ah, jaysis), Veronica is forever sewing, and, in the bar, friends are forever cackling. Why the dog – an amusingly mimed whirlwind of disaster – is no longer called Larrygogan, though, is completely beyond me.
That mimed animal will distract some people, particularly when the production can rustle up a real live baby (dramaturgy, people!), and it highlights an indifference to the medium. When you bring The Snapper to the stage, you have to ask what the stage can bring to The Snapper? Some of McBrinn's work is spryly imaginative, especially in how Delaney, Fay and Clifford regard each, supportive or worried, as they roll pieces of Paul Wills's patchwork set into position between scenes. But with just so many scenes, some of them barely minutes long, much of that fleetness feels like problem-solving. Taking two and a half hours to do what the film does in 90 minutes, the effort begins to sap the comedy.
Then there is the tug of concern about a plot that pivots on a young woman getting pregnant while too drunk to give consent. Sharon might not recognise it as rape, but if this story can be retrofitted to contain new concern for abortion, does the play now recognise it?
In Simon O'Gorman's exquisitely funny performance, Mr Burgess is, again, a pathetic figure of fun – "a fuckin' eejit" as Sharon calls him – a humiliated subplot within a salty Dublin comedy of fractious family life, pregnancy stages and nostalgic pop songs. But Sharon's flashbacks of an older man, seen on a grainy television screen, and approaching with the words, "Are you alrigh' there, Sharon?", nudge at something more disturbing. That is the part of The Snapper we prefer to forget.