I feel I ought to have more faith in Richard Bean as a playwright – his work is performed by major theatres, directed by talented people and is well-received by many of my colleagues. However this is the second of his works I have seen in Oxford in recent years to leave me somewhat underwhelmed.
There is no denying that he has an ear for dialogue – there are some great comic exchanges in The Big Fellah. However his insistence on taking big themes and seeing how they play out over a number of decades leads to a very episodic feel to his work. I would love to see him take on a more conventional timeframe and see how his dialogues and characters can play out without the need to constantly update the audience as to which year the script is now portraying.
My biggest problem with The Big Fellah is not the structure or over-researched politics of the setting – it is with the final scene. In a play that forces the characters to confront the futility of terrorism it feels trite to end the action on the morning of the 9/11 attacks on New York. This scene undermines some fine performances and leaves the audience feeling cheated.
Max Stafford-Clark is a director I would have expected to have found a more fitting ending for the play and I regret his decision to allow it to conclude as it does. The production, otherwise, has a very polished and stylish feel – with some excellent performances from Finbar Lynch and David Ricardo-Pearce in particular. A quality production of a flawed script - I wish I could have liked it more.