The opening scene shows a large moon projected onto the stage curtain with JFK’s famous ‘Moon Speech’ broadcast over the PA system. Drum Belly is the story of Gangsters in New York in the late 60’s and this perfectly sets the mood. An uneasy truce has been called between the Irish gangs and their Italian counterpart, and a payment is agreed to hold the truce in place. When the money goes missing along with those delivering it, something has to give!
The plot and style of this play is reminiscent of a Tarantino or McDonagh (In Bruges, Sevens Psychopaths) movie, with cold hearted killers spouting large blocks of dialogue on the origins of words and their synonyms, before or during torturing their captives. The characters often rely on stereotypes, as is typical of the gangster movie genre, and this clearly stays within the mould. It is surprising this ended up on stage at all, as it could be easily converted to the screen. Drum Belly is written by Richard Dormer, who is currently in the cinemas starring in Good Vibrations, the movie about record store and label owner Terri Hooley.
The back wall of the stage of the Abbey is visible on the set, and the various scene changes are made by the characters pushing in furniture on wheels from the wings, which is largely done to music of the era, with Iggy Pop featuring prominently in the soundtrack. Music is pivotal to the piece, and there’s even a dance sequence near the start that really catches you off guard, but works well. While it is a gangster play, there is a touch of comedy about the events with a large number of laugh out loud moments.
This is a hugely inventive and interesting play and a real shock to the system from the National Theatre which is often accused of not taking enough chances. The acting is impressive, with the two main actors Declan Conlon and Ciarán O’Brien, along with Liam Carney creating some fascinating characters. The pace is furious throughout and the ending completes the loop in style.
This should bring a new and much younger audience to the Abbey, and is ideally suited for those that like Tarantino and the gangster genre in general. It’s fascinating to see something like this on the stage, and really was a very enjoyable and different piece of theatre.
Drum Belly opens at the Abbey Theatre tonight (review on last preview on 09/04/13) and runs until May 11th. Tickets are €10-40. There are €10 tickets available to Drum Belly as part of ‘Theatre Test Drive’ if you book Monday to Wednesday. No risk attached then! Book them while you can.
Meet the Makers series:
Richard Dormer – talk 11 April
Other Voices: Art & Violence – talk 18 April
Gerard Byrne – Walter Sorrow
Liam Carney – Harvey Marr
Declan Conlon – Mr. Gulliver Sullivan
Phelim Drew – Daniel ‘Antrim’ Malley
David Ganly – Thomas ‘Lumpy’ Flannegan
Ronan Leahy – Willy ‘Wicklow’ Hill
Gary Lydon – Chief Marion O’Hare
Ryan McParland – Bobby Boy
Ciarán O’Brien – Johnny ‘The Fox’ Rourke
Karl Shiels – Mickey No-No
Richard Dormer – Writer
Sean Holmes – Director
Paul Wills – Set Design
Paul Keogan – Lighting Design
Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh – Costume Design
Christopher Shutt – Sound Design
Maeve Stone – Resident Assistant Director
Donal O’ Farrell – Fight Director