A Little Gem

January 31, 2010

Set in Elaine Murphy’s native Artane , Little Gem is a rollicking year in the life of three ordinary women, a granny, mammy and prammy as they crave, rave and slave through the everyday curve balls life throws at them.

Kay (Anita Reeves) is past 60, but not dead, as her constantly itching fanny and ever present need to “get her bit” reminds her. Her daughter Lorraine (Hilda Fay) is driven to the “quacks” when, after a lifetime of being put upon by her junkie husband, she now has to care for her stroke addled father, ostrich like mother and a head the ball daughter Amber (Sarah Greene) whose gotten up the duff. The men in this play are either incapacitated or have scarpered, leaving the women to pick up the pieces and put their little family back together again. A challenge they meet head on and without any trace of self-pity, resorting, as the Irish so often do, to a cheery such-is-life disposition.

Murphy’s strong ear for honest to goodness Dublin colloquialisms and knack for observational humor has lead to a series of frank interlocking monologues that are often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking and always shot from the hip. Anita Reeves plays strongly to type as the matriarch, managing to get the bingo brigade this play is so clearly aimed at, rolling in the aisles one moment and the next have tears roll down their faces. Hilda Fay, as Loraine, steals the show, managing to turn her characters obsessive, compulsive, self-deprecating behavior into something real, something true, allowing the humor to shine through while resisting the urge to exploit it. And both women handle Murphy’s lightning like shifts in tone admirably, keeping us with them at all times.

A pity then the role of Amber is so poorly cast. I’ve never seen Ms
Greene on stage before so I’m not sure if she is a terrible actress or simply dreadful in this. Either way she should never have been cast in a role that required her to deliver so many layered monologues loaded with teenage bravado, childish compulsions and sudden, shocking revelations. Her lines never come alive in the way they do for Reeves
and Fay and her accent careers wildly about, taking in every county in Ireland except the one its supposed to. She never seems comfortable in the role and it’s hard to believe that she has played it both nationally and internationally for over a year.

It is a testament to the strength of Elaine Murphy’s writing that Little Gem survives her wooden performance to be a touching, evocative snapshot of life and death in a North Dublin suburb. Charming, disarming and peopled with recognisable characters Little Gem is a show for and about the family


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