O’Connor’s short stories lose lustre on the stage

by Gazette Reporter

AS A big fan of short story writer Frank O’Connor, I was tentatively looking forward to seeing God Bless the Child, a play based on O’Connor’s work, at The Gaiety Theatre.

However, I was soon to discover that some things are better left alone and not everything can be successfully adapted for the stage.
In my opinion, Patrick Talbot’s adaptation – while an enjoyable enough affair with three good actors playing roles as children – falls flat as a theatrical piece.
The three short stories on which the piece is based (My Oedipus Complex, The Genius, and First Confession) were treated in a manner somewhat stilted as each of the three actors took it in turn to assume the voice of the narrator and deliver a soliloquy to the audience.
The effect was tiring and repetitive after a while, and though the performances were very good, the format was a predictable round of 1-2-3.
However, judging by the audience reaction, my opinion was in the minority. People all around me audibly expressed their huge enjoyment of the show, with constant laughter running throughout.
Actors Ciaran Bermingham, Shane Casey and Gary Murphy wore schoolboy uniforms and two of them sat on classroom benches like subs at a football match, waiting for their turn while the third actor performed to the audience.

Comic effect
All three performances were very good, but Bermingham stood out the most. The actors’ Cork accents were pretty flawless, if a touch florid for comic effect.
The piece really played to the comedy in the short stories and the audience happily lapped it up.
However, the original stories contain much more than mere comedy and all their poignancy and insight were missed.
This does O’Connor’s work a disservice for those who have never read anything by the Cork writer will presume that he has less depth than is the case.
On the other hand, because the audience seemed to love the show, perhaps it will act as an appetiser for them to go on and read the real thing.
The featured short stories related pivotal episodes from the narrator’s childhood and include paternal jealousy, bullying, being misunderstood and the fear of making a “bad confession” and therefore burning in hell.
There were plenty of genuinely funny quotes in the show, such as when Gary Murphy’s character, Larry, said of a lame teacher he admired: “I was so impressed, I decided to have a lame leg myself.”
In First Confession, O’Connor is hard-hitting against the Catholic Church and this was properly adhered to in the play.
The play was peppered with recitals of decades of the rosary by the three characters as they took to their knees before the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart.
Jackie’s (Ciaran Bermingham) terror of eternal damnation, which has been drilled into him by a menacing nun, depicts a shameful period in Irish history.
When God Bless The Child played to packed houses last year at Everyman, Cork it received a hugely positive response, and that seems to be the case with Dublin audiences too.
The show, though undramatic, delivers an entertaining evening with a great deal of mirth and solid acting performances.
God Bless the Child runs at The Gaiety Theatre until April 11. Tickets, costing from €19.65, are available from The Gaiety Theatre Box Office at 0818 719 388.

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