Improbable Frequency at the Gaiety Theatre

October 24, 2013

It’s fitting that in the same month that the curtain goes up on the first originally composed musical to be mounted at our national theatre in twenty years, that this, the show that started the trend – and set the bar for indigenous musicals, should be revived. Improbable Frequency, Rough Magic’s nimbly nuanced verbal ballet is a tongue twisting, mind bending, temper testing trip, a re-imagining of “the emergency” using a trio of real life figures to explore our neutrality. History may always be written by the victor but Arthur Riordan pokes the passivity of the neutral so that the malignancy of all sides slithers out in their language.

Tristam Faraday (Hanly) has been sent to Ireland as a spy. His task to crack the code MI5 suspect is being used by the IRA to contact the Nazis, broadcast over the airwaves via the songs played on a popular radio request programme. His contact in Dublin is the poet John Betjeman (Nolan), himself a low level operative who is also the literary adversary of Myles na gCopaleen (Kelly), a man he suspects might help Faraday figure out what’s going on. In a country that is “foreign, but not foreign” Faraday becomes embroiled with a number of characters who help, hinder and hijack his investigation as the complicated nature of two nations is played out by Femme Fatales, Fierce Fenians and Dipsomaniac Diplomats. There’s also the mysterious Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger whose been invited to stay by DeVelera for some mysterious purposes. All in all our neutral goose is cooked and it us up to Faraday to save the day, to crack the code and win the girl while dancing the fine line between what’s right and what’s just.
Lexical lunacy abounds as puns and innuendo pours through Riordan’s vibrant verse, the plot slipping and sliding along as the physically phosphorescent cast elucidate every joyous play on words. Bell Helicopters genre defying score, a kitsch ribbing of traditional balladry, rebel rousing and Gilbert and Sullivan, wields an infectious whip. Toes tap, heads nod and lips are set to hum, while Riordan’s darker points – Irish collusion with Germany, British war mongering – is not lost amongst the fray.

However, at the plays conclusion, a British officer says “I thought I had the gist of it, until we hit the science bit.” Which perhaps best describes the production’s second half. I won’t give too much away but needless to say that Riordan’s penchant for saying with three verses what could – and should have been said with one, confuses us and abuses the wonderful wordplay that served him so well up until that point. This verbal overkill means we never return to the electrifying highs of the first act not helped by the repetitive balladry and Cathy White’s mannered turn as Agent Green.

Peter Hanly plays a blinder. Beautifully restrained amongst such bedlam he anchors the tale when Riordan’s overactive imagination threatens to overheat the plot with Kelly and Nolan hitting all the right notes in a multitude of roles. Between them the trio show the right level of commitment and comedic intuition so that even the more trying gags are dragged above the waterline while Parker proves she has the acumen to draw the audiences attention to where it is needed. (No small feat, given the manicness of the story).

Improbable Frequency is terrific, fun and joyously crafted. It offers as much to a return visitor as the uninitiated. It’s really not to be missed.


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