Bastard: A Family History – Review by Frank L.
The stage contains a substantial vacant suspended picture frame with an open suitcase on the floor, a toaster of indeterminate age on a small table, a fairly tired armchair and various other well-used and somewhat shabby bits and pieces. All is a bit rundown to say the least. The stage is plunged into darkness and the lights go up to reveal the very substantial shape of Oddie Braddell beaming out of the picture frame which he makes a fairly good attempt to fill clad in his open dressing gown and y-fronts. But he is not suitable portrait material and in no time at all he is moving around the entire stage as he relates his family’s history since the arrival of Bloody Braddell of Drogheda, who had a “penchant for genocide”, with the armies of Cromwell. The Braddells have remained ever since living in Wicklow and Donegal and no doubt many other places in between including one John Waller Braddell who held the record for the highest number of evictions during the famine and was murdered. So he places his ancestral family firmly on the planter’s side of what used to be called the Irish question. He describes his own up-bringing mostly in Donegal and schooling which although in Ireland was in a “protestant” boarding school in Rathfarnham. His father was an officer in the Grenadier Guards so it is quite clear that his upbringing was going to be at an acute angle to the upbringing of most other Irish children. It is the acuteness of that angle which lies at the heart of Braddell’s tale.
He tells it with bravura and a great deal of comic skill as for example when he tries to pronounce the word “protestant” (a word he must have heard often and regularly in his childhood) which he chewed in several different combinations and stutters before just about saying it correctly. It was a delightful moment. Throughout he toasts pieces of sliced pan in the toaster which he butters and places in a pile on a plate… a food fairly low on the culinary ladder. He adds some extra bits to the story so as to keep it seasoned nicely, not that the story needs much spicing given Braddell’s energy and verve and the story’s own idiosyncrasies. What he tells is the story of the outsider family even though the Braddells have been in Ireland on a long “family holiday” since 1649. He is deeply conscious of “the outsider” part. As to his own contribution to the tale, he is not living in some rural landed estate nestling prettily in County Wicklow or Donegal but in the different landscape of suburban Crumlin. If Irish people have a strong sense of place, which it appears that they do, Braddell is trying to determine his centre of gravity culturally and wherever it may lie between Crumlin and some landed-walled estate.
No doubt in the coming years of centenaries there will be multitudinous discussions about national identity, traditions, respect for difference and much else revolving around these far from simple issues. Oddie Braddell has made a witty contribution to the discussion from personal experience and it is to be hoped that the many who will enter the debate in the coming seven or so years will imbue their contributions with a similar degree of insight and wit. He has provided food for thought symbolically revealed to his audience in the humble plate of toast.
Bastard: A Family History finished yesterday (Friday 12th Sept) at the Project Arts Centre.