Dolly West's Kitchen at the Old Vic
It's always a treat when Dublin's Abbey Theatre brings a production to these shores and Patrick Mason's production of Dolly West's Kitchen is sure to be a solid success.
For his new play, Frank McGuinness has examined Ireland's neutral stance in the second world war. With the civil war still fresh in some people's memories, there was a real split between those in Ireland who wanted to stand up to Hitler and those who couldn't bear to be seen supporting anything the British supported.
But there's an extra aspect to the play - the view of sexuality in rural Ireland in the 1930s and 40s, and in particular, the attitude to homosexuality.
All the action takes place in the West family home in County Donegal. Dolly has just returned after several years in Italy running a restaurant (and there's the first of the troublesome points about the play - can we accept that the Italians would need to import Irish cooks?). Dolly's elder sister, Esther is stuck in an unhappy marriage to Ned and their brother is a pompous, repressed officer in the Irish army. Presiding over this brood of misfits is the West matriarch, Rima.
The home is disturbed by the arrival of Alec, Dolly's erstwhile English lover, and two American GIs, whom Rima has invited for dinner. The rest of the play deals with the effect that these outside forces have on the family.
For all McGuinness's ambitious intent, the play is only partially successful. Ireland's role in the war and its citizens' ambivalent attitude to neutrality would in itself provide enough tension and dramatic possibility for most playwrights - it is rather over-egging the mix to examine a trio of ill-assorted relationships.
In particular, the affair between the uptight Justin and the flamboyant, and overtly gay GI, Marco, seems especially strange. McGuiness is indulging in wish fulfilment here - many unhappy Irish homosexuals would no doubt wish that an exotic creature would whisk them away to another world, but in reality, those prayers would remain unanswered, nor is it credible that such an openly gay relationship would have been tolerated.
What this brief précis doesn't reveal is how funny the play is (even if some of the jokes were old when Adam was a lad). Most of the best laughs are reserved for Pauline Flanagan's Rima. True, many of the one-liners rely for their effect on the idea of an old woman letting rip with a range of expletives, but Ms Flanagan's sense of timing would put many comedians to shame.
In fact, all the cast put in excellent performances. Especially good were Michael Colgan's grimly repressed Justin and Donna Dent's Dolly, but I don't like to single them out. This is a stellar ensemble that does full justice to McGuinness' ambitious play.