Sunday, 9 September 2012
Philadelphia Here I Come at The Donmar
Brian Friel’s 1964 play, Philadelphia Here I Come is currently playing at The Donmar and it is a particularly satisfying production.
The play explores the dilemma facing young Gar O’Donnell; he wants to leave the confines of the parochial small town, Ballybeg, to experience the bright lights and new challenges of the US, but has reservations. How can he leave without some kind of sign that his undemonstrative father/employer will not only miss his son but also has some measure of love for him. In fact, if only he would plead with Gar not to go. He also has to say goodbye to the old family retainer, Madge, who has effectively been the mother figure since the death of his real ma, and his old girlfriend who he has loved and lost to someone else. The atmosphere in the O’Donnell household is one of repressed emotion. No one says what they really mean. In fact they hardly say anything at all, apart from the old man’s litany of banal phrases. And as for human emotion, forget it. Gar himself (or at least the public Gar) is equally culpable, but the clever Brian Friel enables us to glimpse the boy’s true feelings by also giving us the private Gar. This works particularly well as the two actors, identically dressed, perfectly portray the two-sides of the twenty-five year old and Friel has them constantly shuffling the two roles, at times resembling a tennis rally. We also realise Mr. O’Donnell does do emotion when he opens up slightly to Madge. If only he was able to do the same to his son.
Gar’s poignant relationship with his silent and be-suited Da, is masterfully played by both Paul Reid and James Hayes. Their fractured relationship is terribly moving and there was an audible sigh from the audience when the father doesn’t remember an incident in his son’s childhood when the two of them seemed to actually have some kind of close relationship.
The whole cast work extremely well together, but I particularly enjoyed Benny Young’s Canon Mick O’Byrne and Julia Swift as Gar’s Aunt, Lizzy Sweeney. Her and her husband visit Ballybeg and she’s the one who sows the seeds of Gar’s escape. Childless and living in Philadelphia, she is desperate for a son, even if he’s the son of her dead sister. A special mention should also be made of the superb job Valerie Lilley does in playing the equally repressed Madge and Rory Keenan in bringing Gar’s inner voice to life with verve, bubbling anger and no small amount of wit. In fact both Paul Reid and Rory Keenan are the perfect double act and help to make this production so delicately moving. Anyone who has lost a parent or has one to whom they’ve never got through, will have their emotions particularly stirred. All credit to the Director, Lyndsey Turner.
The staging of the play is also impeccable with a very clever design by Rob Howell illustrating the O’Donnell’s business by showing rows of household knick-knacks and groceries and clever lighting by Tim Lutkin. In fact his lighting is shown to brilliant effect at the end of the play when it is used to emulate an aircraft taking off. The question is “is Gar on board?”