Tom Murphy's much admired play focusing on Irish family ties with a bloody edge first premiered in 1961 and caused shock, outrage and praise. Watching it today, one can imagine how audiences felt closed in and unable to escape the spiralling violence on display. Although today the shock value is slightly muted in this Royal Exchange production.
Dada and his brood fight for dominance like a pack of hungry tigers. Michael Carney, the eldest son, moves to England for a better life with his wife. Longing to escape from the pack mentality of his brothers and father, he is determined to fight with his intelligence rather than his fists. But soon his brawling family arrive at Michael’s home and bring the past right back to haunt him. He must then choose between his new life and his old family loyalties.
Patrick O'Kane brings a sense of fragility to the role of Michael, he is fearful of the fact that if does not join his brothers in arms he will become their next victim. Damian O'Hare is frighteningly real as Harry who loves to fight - and then boast afterwards, as it means he can finally be somebody his dad can be proud of. He says: "Thick lads don’t feel. They cannot be offended." Gary Whelan plays Dada with a stuttering realisation that he is no longer leader of the pack.
This gritty and at times threatening play is good in parts. The excellent performances highlight the animalistic behaviour of the family brilliantly, complete with blood stained shirts and tribal movement. Renny Krupinski's fight scenes bring the realism right into the round.
The main problem here is that the play is strangely uninvolving as the stage is filled with so many characters busy vying for attention that you start to lose patience early on. Also, the narrative loses some of its mileage after Act One because Murray seems to want to justify the brothers’ behaviour rather than allow them to be bad full stop.
There are some great scenes here but as a whole this production fails to capture Murphy’s vision as well as I hoped. It is an above average attempt but in this age of computer game violence, the sharp shock impact that this piece used to wield seems rather blunt today.
- Glenn Meads