The Quare Fellow

July 19, 2010

The Quare Fellow isn’t the only thing left hanging in Ronan Wilmot’s arid production of Brendan Behan’s classic play, which runs for the next five weeks at the New Theatre in Temple Bar. Timing, tension and all traces of the original’s tenacity are strung up in this overly long, lumbering show that smothers the text with affected mannerisms, bizarre accents and painful pauses.  Where each line is delivered so painstakingly slowly that I half expected Fiona O’Shaughnasey to appear, dancing the dance of the seven veils and demanding the head of Jochanaan.

No one as lovely as Miss O Shaughnasey appears in this mess nor is there anyone capable of shaking it out of the dull monotone it resides in, the grey shirts and walls of the prison setting the tone for a grim evening’s theatre. Set the day and night before the Quare Fellow is hanged we are, unceremoniously and without pathos, shown the methodical approach to prison life, the judicial taking of life innocuously absorbed, such is its regularity. The chance of a last minute reprieve is receding with each passing hour and, as the Quare Fellow waits off stage to meet his maker, his fellow convicts go about their daily routine of smoking, joking and checking out the mot’s. Behan’s genius was to drape such ease in a series of simple set pieces, which brought home the true horror beneath the gallows humor. And while I respect that what Wilmot was attempting to do was to really make us see the brutality of the prison experience and highlight the plays anti-death penalty message,  the heavy handed approach of both cast and crew renders the whole affair stilted and overtly reverent.

To make matters worse the actors made no obvious character choices, aside from the aesthetic- jutting out their jaw, arching their eyebrows or raising their (funny) voices- and there was minimal movement and little interaction between characters, whilst no distinction was made between when they were being silly and when they were being serious. They were not helped by a cumbersome set which reduced the playing space, a possible artistic attempt to stimulate the claustrophobia of prison life that wasn’t followed through in the performances.

In trying to dichotomise Behan’s words from original director Joan Littlewood’s extra-textual interpretation Wilmot snuffed the life out of it leaving us with a thoughtless reading of the original text that ignores the true nature of the Irish man, to make light of grief yet revealing honesty in his wit. This production went so far out of its way to avoid mugging it ended up on the other side of the coin- flat, frigid and frightfully unfunny.


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