Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Big Fellah.

To the Lyric to see Richard Bean's The Big Fellah. Richard is pretty unique as a contemporary playwright in that he always prefers a broad historical sweep rather than keeping a unity of time and most of his plays take the audience on a journey over years and sometimes centuries. His early Royal Court work Under the Whaleback about the three generations of trawler men in Hull and Harvest which followed a North Yorkshire farming family over a century were moving, heartfelt and protective of communities that he understood and respected.

More recently he's broadened his scope and arguably lost some of his touch. England People Very Nice which told the story of Brick Lane over the last five hundred years had some moments, but ultimately seemed to parody the efforts of the community to integrate immigrants rather than offer any of the empathy so apparent in his earlier work.

For The Big Fellah he's turned his attention to the Irish American community in New York, to provide a prism through which to explore the history of republicanism and, by neat but dodgy implication, terrorism itself, from Bloody Sunday to 9/11. Michael Doyle, a fireman, decides to honour his Irish heritage and is recruited by Costello, 'the big fellah' - in charge of the big apple's IRA cell. His flat is quickly turned into a safe house for a killer on the run and the action then unfolds through the ups and downs of atrocity and agreement.

Overall for all the cleverness the play seems naive. The humour not angry enough to carry a judgement. The analysis not clear enough take your breath away and so what your left with is a few bon mots, a fairly decent plot and a slight sense that for all the detailed referencing of culture and history that Bean's on a flight of fancy rather than offering an explanation of the Irish American relationship.

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