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The Big Fellah
In The Big Fellah Bean examines the politics and recent history of the Irish Republican movement through the eyes of a New Yorker who supports the cause over three decades. Bean's plays are always hugely enjoyable for his incisive writing and he is not afraid to tackle subjects that other playwright shy away from.
To a tape of Irish folk music we first meet Finbar Lynch as the eponymous Big Fellah, David Costello, an organiser and major fund raiser for the Irish republicans in America. Setting the scene he is delivering a speech to supporters at a St Patrick's Day dinner in 1972 encouraging them to donate to the cause. Through the interconnected lives of Mr Costello, Ruari (Rory Keenan) a fugitive from British justice who will become a test legal case in the United States and Bronx resident Michael Doyle (David Ricardo-Pearce), we will learn about the major events in Anglo-Irish history, the Troubles in Northern Ireland as they impact on the lives of these men.
This is not a romantic or sentimental view of the Irish Republican movement. As well as referring to the major political events— the massacres and the bombings— Bean exposes the complexity of the treachery, suspicion and murders that take place in the name of Irish nationalism determined to rid Ireland of British occupation. Costello talks about celebrating the massacre that was Bloody Sunday because it will polarise opinion and bring more support to the cause. The legal case Ruari is involved in is whether under American law, an Irishman who kills a British soldier is politically motivated, a freedom fighter against an invading army, or a criminal. Ruari maintains he was the driver not the man who shot the soldier and the court case takes many years.
Claire Rafferty plays Elizabeth Ryan, a girl staying in the safe house in New York, and who Michael falls in love with. When Costello states that no-one can remember the names of the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison Belfast who died after 27 year old Bobby Sands in 1981, Elizabeth lists off every one of the nine who followed. This scene looks at the misogyny of the Irish movement. The other female interest is Stephanie Street as Karelma, a Puerto Rican New Yorker who, as a journalist, keeps Ruari in the news.
Bean keeps us smiling with a rif about how most of the players detest Irish music and the guitar hangs on the wall of Michael's apartment rather than being played, something that visitor from Northern Ireland, the ruthless and violent Frank McArdle finds offensive in a brilliant cameo from Fred Ridgeway.
Tim Shortall's design is the inside of the Bronx apartment but with the kitchen units painted an emerald green symbolic of the Irish cause. Max Stafford-Clark directs for Out of Joint with his usual flair making these complex events easy to follow. Performances are strong and believable with Finbar Lynch giving us the most complex and satisfying interpretation of his character.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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