The Big Fellah, written by Richard Bean, is produced by Out of Joint and the Lyric Hammersmith and ends its tour at Northern Stage this week.
Set in an IRA safe house, the timing for the play could not be better, with the Queen and American President having just put Ireland back in to headlines. The play covers quite a lot of ground, starting after Bloody Sunday in 1972 and ending with the Twin Towers attack in 2001. But it flows extremely well and the characters are allowed to age and develop over the years.
The central character is the 'The Big Fellah' David Costello (Finbar Lynch) an IRA fundraiser in New York, who helps the cause by sending guns back to Ireland. The writing gives the audience the feeling they are virtually eavesdropping on action which takes place over the years as the safe house becomes refuge for several IRA operatives. One of these is Elizabeth Ryan (Lisa Kerr) who develops a relationship with Michael Doyle (David Ricardo-Pearce), the owner of the flat which threatens the operation and reaches an untimely powerful tragic end.
While real life events are often talked about, the play is full of humour and has several laugh out loud moments, which are balanced nicely against the violence happening both on, and off, stage. But the story takes a much bloodier and very sinister twist when we meet Security Officer Frank McArdle, brilliantly played by David Rintoul, in the second half.
The play is gripping, extremely funny, violent, as well as thought provoking. But the nude scene does seem unnecessary and awkward, adding nothing to the story, while the bad language fits entirely naturally given the subject matter.