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Review Round-Up: Critics crow for Philadelphia, Here I Come

Philadelphia, Here I Come opened at the Donmar Warehouse this week (31 July 2012, previews from 26 July), directed by Lyndsey Turner. Starring Rory Keenan and Paul Reid, the production features two versions of the same character on stage at the same time; the private and public self.

In Friel's breakthrough play Gar O’Donnell is leaving his family and the Ireland of his childhood for a new life in America. On his last night in town a series of visitations - real and imagined - force him to confront the choices he's made and the promise of the future.

Philadelphia, Here I Come runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 22 September.

Michael Coveney

...It’s all so delicately, movingly done...The emotional hinge of the play is the memory test of a fishing expedition in a blue boat, and the front door metaphorically slams shut when James Hayes delivers an unguarded, unprecedented emotional testimony not to Gar but to Madge. Anyone who felt he never got through to his (or her) father might be in pieces at this point. There’s not a false note all evening, and the staging is impeccable on a wittily monumental design by Rob Howell that intersects the living area with the receding shelves of the store, packed with household knick-knacks and groceries, a museum-like display of boring essentials, bathed in Tim Lutkin’s lighting and the yearning strains of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, the title song (ironically replacing California with Philadelphia) and Irish family favourites.

Andrzej Lukowski
Time Out

Posh director Lyndsey Turner seems incapable of helming anything that's less than sparkling at the moment, and she does not disappoint with her Donmar debut, buffing this bittersweet 1963 Brian Friel jewel to a lambent sheen. Philadelphia, Here I Come! follows Gar, a young man from the fictional Irish town of Ballybeg, on his last night at home before emigrating to the States for good. It is a play about inner and outer lives, about what is said and what is unsaid, and to this end there is not one Gar but two... There is melancholy here, but equal amounts of merriment. Friel's text and Turner's production dance with nimble wit and good humour, mostly provided by the superb Keenan, whose sizzling energies cut through the old world gloom like a beacon in the dark, lonely but hopeful.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

… a note-perfect revival, courtesy of director Lyndsey Turner… Gar is not intrinsically a very interesting young man but the tensions in his psyche are absorbingly portrayed. To do this Friel splits him in half; we see Gar’s public and private selves played by two different actors, who trade questions and ripostes. The experiment is Friel’s triumph, and he is beautifully served by the cast… The result is a remarkable vision of loneliness and ambivalence. Although Friel depicts emigration as a painful prospect, the play pulses with humour. This is a wistful and deeply moving production — the best I’ve seen at the Donmar since Josie Rourke took over there.

Michael Billington

… This, as Friel himself once said, is as much a play about love as emigration. Friel's big trick is to show the two sides of 25-year-old Gar O'Donnell as he prepares to leave stagnant Ballybeg and his father's dry-goods store for the joys of the US. The public Gar initially seems brooding and cautious, while the private Gar is wild and fantastical… It is the interaction between Paul Reid's public and Rory Keenan's private Gar that gives the play its dynamic. Both are first-rate – but Ireland's tragedy, Friel implies, lies in the inability to own up to emotion…. It's a play that creeps up on you by stealth, and gains immeasurably from being seen after Druid's production of Tom Murphy's Conversations on a Homecoming, which recently touched down in London. If Friel memorably shows the impulse towards emigration, Murphy deals with the infinite pathos of return.

Libby Purves
The Times

…Rendered with immaculate delicacy, Lyndsey Turner’s production was for me the most moving Donmar evening since King Lear in 2010…Gar himself is played by two men identically clad: Paul Reid is the public face, ever quieter; Rory Keenan his mocking, sincere, anguished, frustrated private voice. The pair melt well together, Keenan ranting and Reid managing the difficult trick of showing his roiling emotions only in his face and tense body language. The depiction of a young man’s desperate silent inner life brought me to tears more than once… I have not made enough of the comedy, the timing, the language, the thoughtful set. See for yourself.

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