Thursday, 5 January 2006
A Couple of Blaguards, Jan 5, 2006
A Couple of Blaguards
by Frank Mc Court & Malachy McCourt
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, Jan 5 to 22, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
The McCourt Brothers, Frank and Malachy, are as famous for their Irish childhood and larrikin humour as they are for their respective contributions to literature and entertainment.
Frank’s novel, Angela’s Ashes, about their early years in wretched poverty in Limerick, Ireland, won a Pulitzer Prize. Meanwhile, Malachy featured in American television and radio.
In 1984, the brothers wrote and performed a revue-style show about their life in Ireland and later years in New York City, where they found almost as many Irish as in Limerick.
Both Frank and Malachy are successful prose writers but their stage writing for Blaguards is restricted to short scenes, vignettes, gags, yarn spinning and oral history.
The McCourt’s original director, Howard Platt, directs Max Cullen (Frank) and Max Gillies (Malachy). In addition to Frank and Malachy, they play numerous other Irish and American characters inspired by the McCourt’s past.
The actors perform most of the show seated or standing at a small table and chairs at the front and centre of the stage. Two enormous banner posters of Ireland and New York City flank them.
The show might benefit from greater directorial risks with characterisation, design and staging. The production is unimaginative.
Clearly, though, the focus is on the hilarity of these snapshots of the McCourt’s lives. The early scenes are the most enjoyable and comical.
Cullen is charming as the child Frank, being berated by his pious mother and his aggressive grandmother, his prudish teacher, his fiery Catholic priest and a more liberal Jesuit, all played by Gillies.
For those of us who went through the Irish Catholic childhood and made our First Holy Communion, these scenes are achingly funny and familiar.
Gillies plays the cynical, intellectual Jesuit with a wry humour and his local parish priest is a tyrant using hellfire and brimstone to terrify the little boys into shunning “self-abuse”, the sin of lust and any other activity that might be pleasurable.
Cullen and Gillies wickedly parody two Limerick women: whining, blaming, devout and venomously critical.
There are plenty of stories about death. The saddest is about the boys dealing with the death of their little brother. The comical ones show wizened women carping at funerals and drunks revelling in Guinness and yarns at the wake.
The second half, the boys’ later years in New York, is overladen with confusing stories and too many characters, but the first half in particular is very entertaining.
By Kate Herbert