The Mysterious History of Things – Viking Theatre – Review by Frank L
Written by Jack Harte
July 25 -Aug 6
This production is set in a remote cottage, the furnishings of which are simple and hark back to an earlier time, with a painted dresser setting the tone. It is the home of a famous historian. He has been allegedly maintaining or reviving the tradition of recording events of some importance in a big book. A man (Seamus O’Rourke) slumbers in an armchair. He is obviously rural but he is a visitor to the house. His sleep is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman (Zara Burdon Yeates), a personal assistant by profession, power- dressed with Jimmy Shoo shoes to boot. She is obviously urban. She is on a mission to meet the historian so that any entry about her boss will be suitably positive and laudatory. Her boss is a self-made man and what other people may say about him, he wishes to control.
However the historian has gone out to tend to agricultural matters as the weather is fine. She will have to wait until it suits the historian to return. She and the man are forced into conversation with interruptions from her boss or his other female assistant on a mobile. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not harmonious in the work world of the Jimmy Shoo attired woman.
The rural man has his own views on various topics including the connection between hurling and St. Patrick. These are idiosyncratic but rather delightful. He tries to convince the girl of the possibility that they may be credible. Gradually they reveal to each other more about their respective pasts while all the time the historian is out tending to his agricultural work. Beckett-like they are waiting for the historian.
Seamus O’Rourke has a part which gives him all sorts of opportunities to perform various vignettes, which he does with gusto. The most captivating of which was his radio commentary of a hurling match which was a delight. The part of the personal assistant was more stereotypical and very much of the twenty-first century. She is a rather pushy, humourless, upwardly mobile career animal. She has few lines with which she can indulge even if she has some double entendres. With them, she makes clear her scorn for her female colleague stuck in the office. However the core of the play is the lengths to which her self-aggrandising boss, who is appropriately never seen, will go to ensure that the historian will give him a complimentary entry in his big book.
Harte, in this often comic piece, brings to the fore the obsession certain individuals of dubious reputation have that the reality of their character is kept carefully submerged beneath a blather of complimentary guff. Modern Ireland has quite a few candidates who fit this role. Harte is to be congratulated in airing the phenomenon in the theatre. It is not that easy to do so elsewhere with the laws of defamation being what they are.