In many ways it’s a pity this play, An Apple A Day, hasn’t had more outings over the years, having laid dormant since its Abbey Theatre Dublin run in 1942 – and although there was a staged reading at The Rose Theatre Kingston in 2013, this is the first known full production since the Second World War. It was asserted to me in a pre-show conversation that there was a lack of interest in the plays of Una Troy (Elizabeth Connor, the given name of the author of this play, is a pseudonym) on account of Troy being a woman. There may well be more than a modicum of truth to this: I tried to think of other female playwrights from this era, and could only come up with one other – Agatha Christie, probably because her play The Mousetrap still plays in the West End. A search engine browse threw up some names, but none that I had heard of.
The Irish are great storytellers, and this is demonstrated well in this brisk production. It’s highly engrossing, even when it’s Dr Burke (Bernard O’Sullivan) simply talking about walking around Dublin anonymously. Here’s another example. “It’s a bad night out,” muses Lizzie Power (Catriona McFeely).
“Would you listen to the rain?” A fairly mundane line at face value, but it immediately struck a chord with this audience on an unusually wet and windy London night on a Bank Holiday weekend (a large tree had fallen into one of the roads nearby, causing traffic delays).
My level of interest in the play did not, however, need to be sustained by such inadvertently topical references. The script, I would imagine, would have been rather radical in its time, particularly in conservative Roman Catholic Ireland. There is, however, something distinctly Irish about the medical doctor dispensing whisky to other characters, including Sarsfield Clancy (Morgan Crowley), TD for Carrigmahon. It will take some detail to fully explain what ‘TD’ precisely means, though suffice to say Clancy is an elected parliamentarian. Connor’s script depicts him as ineffective and full of weasel words, and one can’t help but think that little has changed over the decades.
Dr Gavin Barry (Michael Mahoney), 27 years of age, and a new arrival to the village, suffers immensely at the hands of a community, whether blatantly at the hands of Jeremiah Power (Rory Murray) and, later, Jim Hannigan (Michael Kiersey), or more subtly by the likes of Janet (Clare Langford) and Anne (Lauren McGarvey). While he possessed an initially abrasive manner and hails from Cork, the response is most unfair and disproportionate.
Quite why his heritage is such a problem is never fully explained, though I suspect an anti-Cork sentiment would have gone down well with the Dublin audiences of the play’s initial run. Anyway, at one point it even crossed my mind that maybe a Jeremy Beadle-type character would halt proceedings and ask Dr Barry to look into a nearby camera and smile. Further, I couldn’t help thinking: there’s something about the establishment locked in dispute with a junior doctor that’s remarkably relatable to what’s going on in Britain in 2016.
Mahoney’s acting was so convincing in an exploration of fear of the unknown that I – very, very unusually – jumped out of my seat during a mesmerising exchange with Tottie Burke (an equally convincing Carole Dance). Elsewhere, one or two of the punchlines are, truth be told, predictable, but never exhaustingly so, though I daresay it almost certainly would be, in the hands of a not-quite so talented and enthusiastic company as this one.
Act Two in particular provides an unusual approach to portraying on-stage madness, and Act Three contains a twist I didn’t see coming. Dr Barry, henpecked so relentlessly up to this point, now finds himself being fought over rather than just being fought. Janet, Dr Burke’s daughter, turns out to be something of an alpha female, and local lady Statis Slattery (Maria Quinn) reveals Dr Barry to be a man with a feminine side. In short, this was a play before its time.
What makes this play so endearing is this universalism – there’s much to be applied to contemporary living after all these years. It may be the men who rule and ask questions in the Dáil (parliamentary chamber) – or not – but, as so powerfully demonstrated in the final act, it’s the women who ultimately govern. In that sense it’s a play before its time, or at least it was. Now it’s still fresh, still relevant and still – despite a relatively conventional happy ending – has much to say in our supposedly more sophisticated and enlightened world. I sincerely hope it will not be nearly as long as seventy-plus years before the next production of this multi-layered and compelling work. An utter delight.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An Apple A Day
by Elizabeth Connor
Not seen since its 1942 Abbey Theatre premiere LIR is delighted to present this rediscovered gem.
Think Martin McDonagh meets Tim Burton in this pitch black comedy.
Directed by Gavin McAlinden
Design Fainche McArdle
Costumes Sorcha Corcoran
Lighting by Liam Fahey
Original music by James Jones
The local townsfolk of Carrickmahon are none too pleased at the arrival of Dr Barry to replace the popular ageing incumbent.
If that isn’t bad enough the new doctor has the audacity to be a Cork man!!
But Dr Barry doesn’t realise that the town has a few mysterious secrets; and the locals are mad, bad and dangerous to know.
First performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1942, this pitch-black comedy now receives its first production in over 70 years.
Paul Connaughton – Conal Mackenzie
Morgan Crowley – Sarsfield Clancy T.D.
Carole Dance – Tottie Burke
Michael Kiersey – Jim Hannigan
Clare Langford – Janet Burke
Bláithín McCormick – Biddy Hannigan
Lauren McGarvey – Anne Burke
Catriona McFeely – Lizzie Power
Michael Mahoney – Dr Gavin Barry
Rory Murray – Jeremiah Power
Thomas Snowdon – Sean O’Reilly
Bernard O’Sullivan – Dr Richard Burke
Maria Quinn – Statia Slattery
March 21st – April 10th 2016