Dubliners, particularly those with rural roots, are in for a surprise if and when they get to see the play version of ‘The Valley of the Squinting Windows’, from the original book published in 1919 by Brinsley McNamara.
Firstly the Michael Scott script and production seeks to modernise a century plus old story with ingenious production methods that could become de rigueur for further plays seeking to attract a generation used to watching entertainment with ticker feeds and multi-screen inputs. My visit to the Gaiety Theatre on opening night was the first time I’d witnessed a play and a ‘film’ simultaneously unfolding in front of my eyes.
Let me explain. By placing a videographer (Eileen Timmons) on the stage virtually at all times to train on the actors, Scott’s direction also projected onto the stage’s back screen the action as a simultaneous black and white live video. This was brave in the extreme because there was the chance it could confuse and distract; instead it acted as an added enhancement on the action as it unfurled, allowing the sell-out audience to appreciate the performances from two vantage points.
Another technique – to have a stage audience watching the action throughout – offered a third dimension which allowed us, the real audience, to see this as a production within a production. Which is partly what it is. The novel, while original and groundbreaking in its day, needed the new brushstrokes that Scott and his energetic and empathetic cast brought to the two and a half hours of the story based on John Weldon’s (McNamara’s real name) memory of the caustic tongues and hypocritical carry-on among the Westmeath village community of Delvin .
There are powerful performances right through the cast of 12 professional players and community actors from the Mullingar area with the leading ladies Ciara O’Callaghan (Nan Brennan), Geraldine Plunkett (Marse Prendergast), Siobhan Callaghan (Rebecca Kerr) majestic in their roles while the leading men Stefan Brennan-Healy (John Brennan), Peter Rothwell (Ulick Shannon) and Paul Doolin (Charlie Clarke/ Harry Houlton/Philip Byrne). Those names and many lesser ones had us ranging from pathos to laughter right through the production.
The bad news is that tickets for the run, which ends this Saturday night (Nov 11) after only five nights, are as scarce as hens’ teeth, if indeed they can be had at all. The good news is that such has been the response by the Dublin public (the cast got a standing ovation at the end of the show on Tuesday night) that I’m told there is a great chance it won’t be long before it is back in the city for a second run.
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