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The Big Fellah

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Richard Bean follows his well-crafted farcical thriller House of Games at the Almeida with another skilfully composed comedy for Max Stafford-Clark’s Out of Joint touring company.

It’s as if Bean is atoning for the episodic bagginess of his riotous England People Very Nice at the National. The play marks a real return to form, too, for Stafford-Clark, whose hand-picked cast of seven resourceful actors animates sharply written, wryly critical New York background notes to the IRA terrorist campaign from 1972 to 2001.

The setting is a New York brownstone in the Bronx, where the “big fellah” – Finbar Lynch as the sinister, smooth-talking Costello – whom we first see fund-raising like a comedian at a black tie dinner, establishes a safe house for Rory Keenan’s “heroic” killer, Ruairi O’Drisceoil.

The apartment belongs to fireman Michael Doyle (David Ricardo-Pearce), absurdly honouring his Irish roots by joining the conspiracy - he hasn’t a clue, really - although he’s a Protestant.

This is the funniest play about Irish troublemakers since Bill Morrison’s Flying Blind, and that’s a very long time ago. The scenes are sign-posted by the Long Kesh hunger strike, the unsolved mystery of the kidnapped horse, Shergar, the Remembrance Sunday shooting of mourners, the atrocities at Enniskillen and Omagh, until, of course, New York provides its own globally significant terrorist catastrophe.

And the schematic structure never obscures the acting, which is absolutely first-rate, from Stephanie Street’s feisty FBI agent to Fred Ridgeway’s vicious, stony-faced security man visiting from the homeland - and finding himself on the receiving end of a little light torture - and Youssef Kerkour’s gigantic, moronic NYPD officer.

The West End surely beckons, you feel, as you’re cheekily played in and out by soothing, anodyne Irish folk music.


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