The Birthday of the Infanta @ Bewleys Cafe Theatre

April 9, 2010


Bairbre ni Chaoimh’s adaptation of The Birthday of the Infanta, which runs untill the 8th of May at The Bewleys Cafe Theatre is pretty, pleasant and painless. But scratch away at the whimsy and you’ll not find much beneath.

It is the 12th birthday of the Infanta, the Princess of Spain, a day that comes but once a year and which is of great importance to everybody-particularly the Infanta herself, who in respect of her rank is only allowed play with children of a similar social standing(ie herself)except for this one day when she is allowed play with a select few other children of privilege. An array of animals and entertainers are drafted in for her viewing pleasure and to help take her mind of the fact that her father, the King, is to maudelin to pay her any attention, today, or on any other day since her mother died when she was just six months old.

There’s a kindly governess, a maniacal uncle and a pair of talking flowers thrown into this mix but the basic story revolves around a dwarf-or a grotesque as they were known at the time-who mistakenly thinks that the Infanta has fallen for him when she throws him a rose in appreciation of his woodland dance. He then sets off to woo her with devastating consequences.

The story is just too big and to rich to be done justice on the tiny Bewleys stage, particularly given the constraints of time and space. The bare bones of the story remain in tact but when carving out the play contained within the original short story Ni Chaoimh is forced to cull so much and tack whats left together with jarring narrations so that what could have been a really beautiful, visual piece of theatre never emerges. It just didn’t feel like the work of Oscar Wilde.

The performers are, by and large, competent with Jill Murphy charming as the prissy, pampered Infanta and Natalie Randall Quirke an entertaining governess. But while both milked their lines for what they were worth neither elicited much sympathy or explored the damaged, sensitive side of the a child whose father would rather spend time with the embalmed corpse of his long dead wife than with his living daughter.When reading the short story you are expected to join the dots yourself but when bringing a part to life for the stage it is the job of the performer to join them for you. And I don’t believe the characters emerged rounded enough here.

My heart went out to Oscar Hernandez Rodriguez who as the King, the entertainer and the little grotesque clearly had the best of intentions and the right idea about how to play the part but lacked the ability to bring them to life on stage. The pivotal revelation he makes at the plays end is so fudged over, so undercooked it dilutes the whole piece of dramatic impact.

There’s a lot to work with here and its not without its charms. There’s a nice sense of atmosphere, beautiful production design and all have commited to bringing the work to life. I think free of the restrictions this venue put on her Ni Chaoimh could bake something quite indulgent and filling out of Wilde’s core ingredients. But right now its theatrical fast food, easy to digest but not particularly satisfying.

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