God Bless The Child, First Confessions are the Hardest! – Review by Helen O’Leary
Gaiety Theatre – 31 March 2015 – 11 April 2015
This play adapts for the stage some of the short stories of Frank O’Connor. My Oedipus Complex, The Genius and First Confession are the three chosen by director Patrick Talbot. These stories may be vaguely familiar and are likely to be languishing on bookshelves in English school readers all over Ireland for years. They have been dusted off for this production and are proof that some stories are written to be expressed aloud.
The stories, all told from the perspective of young boys, are thought to be loosely autobiographical, drawing on aspects of O’ Connor’s own early life in Cork. In ‘My Oedipus Complex’ a young boy who had pride of place in his mother’s affections feels usurped by the return of an absent father and the arrival of a new baby. Meanwhile a self declared ‘sissy’ whose passions include opera is the star of ‘The Genius’. At the tender age of five Larry feels very much misunderstood and considers there to be a general lack of appreciation for his intellectual abilities. Lastly there is young Jackie who having harboured thoughts of killing his grandmother is understandably apprehensive on the approach of his First Confession.
O’ Connor captures tenderly but with great humour the perspectives of these young boys. The play was accompanied with fairly continuous gales of laughter from the audience. Although the stories were written in the fifties they don’t feel out-dated or irrelevant, the themes of family turmoil and growing up being timeless.
Starring Gary Murphy, Shane Casey and Ciaran Bermingham the performances are spot on. All three actors capture the tempo, rhythm and dramatic pauses of Cork speak. Each character takes a turn at narrating his story. The spotlight rotates, with all three characters on stage for the entirety of the play they help one another out with minor supportive roles. The only aspect that didn’t quite work for me was a between scene rendition of the Hail Mary accompanied by much craw thumping. It was repeated several times and I felt Frank O’Connor’s own mockery of the church is more subtle and effective than this.
It’s wonderful to see the work of O’Connor given a new lease of life. Altogether a very enjoyable show that I would recommend thoroughly, and not just to natives of Cork.
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