Living, working (and reviewing) in London, as I have the immense privilege of doing, means that every so often I will find myself in a pub decked with various flags of different countries, especially during a sporting tournament, such as Six Nations or the World Cup. It was, therefore, a bit of a shock, albeit a pleasant one, to be greeted by perhaps two dozen of the exact same flag: that of Ireland. It shouldn’t have surprised me, in hindsight, especially when you know you’re going to see something called So An Englishman Walks Into An Irish Bar, except I hadn’t seen an Irish bar decked out with quite so many tricolours before.
A poster, upstage right, reads ‘Traditional Irish Music’. I took this to mean no Westlife tunes would be played over the pub’s speakers. As it goes no music at all was played, and it was U2 that was name-dropped as representative of comparatively bland Irish contemporary fare. And such is the Irish attachment to an alcoholic beverage (or two, or ten) at the local that all barmaid Kate (Catriona McFeely) needs to do to curtail inappropriate behaviour is threaten to have customers barred, “indefinitely”; the response is practically Pavlovian, and quite hilarious to see.
Even so, I did wonder whether this was, at least partly, playing to the gallery. Crowbarring ‘Riverdance’ into a scene certainly was, though at least it’s comical as presented in this play. But surely there are some Irish people out there somewhere who don’t drink almost all (if not all) their disposable income on booze, and the way in which details of the Easter Uprising of 1916 were described by Grace (Bláithín McCormick), a young firebrand, and poet Roddy (Rory Murray) – well, it felt rather forced and instructive. It is too harsh to say it felt like a history lesson at secondary school, but they might as well have stopped the show and ran through a PowerPoint presentation. On the other hand, I concede it’s not altogether a bad thing to have thought of the audience, and what they may or may not know, but I still think, on balance, it ultimately added little to our understanding of the narrative of the play itself.
It’s when matters come to a head between postman Joe (a delightful Michael Kiersey) and newcomer Peter (Thomas Snowdon), the said Englishman who walks into this Irish bar, that the play is at its most interesting and gripping. Through family connections Peter has become the owner of the bar, even if So An Englishman Walks Into His Own Bar doesn’t quite have the same punchiness to work as an alternative title. Joe and Peter are in a ‘civil war’ in a very literal sense of that term (technically it’s a paradox – how can a war be civil?); let’s just say the Health and Safety Executive would be pleased with the checks and balances put in place before battle commences.
It is more of a mildly amusing evening than a raucous laugh-out-loud comedy. On occasion, it fails to raise even a titter. A punchline about the Irish accent (‘turdy tree’ for ‘thirty-three’) fell flat, for instance. This doesn’t stop it from being a highly engrossing and pleasant show overall nonetheless. There are two things that seem to come out from this production for me: a) whether republican or nationalist, pride comes before a fall, and b) whether republican or nationalist, pacifism just isn’t an effective means to resolve opposed uncompromising positions.
A couple of excellent plot twists towards the end keep things fresh, vibrant and thoughtful, and the end itself is unexpectedly extremely hard-hitting and well performed. The light-heartedness continues to keep poking through to the very end as well, sending the audience off on a high. Elsewhere, while the script needs a little tightening in places, there’s a deeper exploration of British imposition on Ireland over the centuries – though not nearly as exhausting, or sentimental, as the late Brian Friel’s plays. Apparently, this show lasted 90 minutes, it honestly felt like less than half an hour. Raw, passionate, well-paced and well-cast.
Review by Chris Omaweng
So An Englishman walking into an Irish Bar
by RG Mackenzie
The legacy of 1916 re-played, re-imagined and re-evaluated with more than a little tongue-in-cheek by exciting young Irish talent Rory Mackenzie.
Directed by Justin Murray
The London Irish Rep company presents an exciting inaugural season staged at a purpose built space in Kingsgate Community Centre, in the heart of Kilburn, to mark the Centenary of the 1916 rising – a seminal event in modern Irish history. Three plays in rep performed by a fourteen strong acting company.
Elizabeth Connor was born in 1910 and began her career in 1936 with the publication of the novel Mount Prospect which was banned in the Irish Free State. She wrote four plays for the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s. She married Dr Joe Walsh who was a physician to the West Waterford IRA flying column. She also wrote under the name of Una Troy.
RG Mackenzie: is a 22 year old studying MA playwriting at Central.
Producing classic, rediscovered and new Irish work
Inaugural rep season at The Kingsgate Theatre
March 21st-April 10th 2016