Minding Frankie – Gaiety Theatre – Review by Fran Winston
June 6th – June 17th 7.30pm nightly. Matinee Saturday June 10th 2.30pm – Tickets €25-€37
Adapted for the stage by Shay Linehan, Directed by Peter Sheridan
Starring – Steve Blount and Clare Barrett
Maeve Binchy’s novels were always noteworthy for their rich characterisations. She never really explored this on the stage though, writing only one play in her lifetime. Now, almost five years after her death playwright Shay Linehan has rectified this adapting one of her beloved literary creations for the stage.
If you’ve read the book of the same name you’ll know that, like all Binchy novels, there are numerous plot strands. Obviously it would be silly to try to compress all of these into a few hours so Linehan has focused on one of the main ones about a man thrust into single fatherhood. I do have to wonder why out of all the wonderful heroines Binchy created Linehan decided to focus on one of her male characters. After all there are already plenty of male-centric works out there. While the presence of Barrett does offer some balance this is still essentially a man’s tale.
An alcoholic with no prospects, Noel Lynch (Blount) is forced to reassess his life when an ex fling dies and entrusts him with custody of their child Frankie. Out of his depth and questioning his skills as a father, his insecurities are compounded by the seemingly endless presence of social worker Moira Tierney (Barrett). Compounded by guilt over a previous case of hers that ended in tragedy, she is less than happy with Frankie’s living arrangements and becomes a looming presence in Noel and Frankie’s lives.
As you would expect given the source material, there is a huge amount of humour and pathos in this script and both Blount and Barrett deliver the punchlines with aplomb. Both are excellent in their central roles creating amazingly rounded characters that you really care about. However director Sheridan employs the theatrical tool of having both play several parts and this isn’t always successful. While Barrett is great as Frankie’s mother Stella, she feels a bit overstretched playing numerous supposedly distinct characters in act two. Equally Blount does OK as Moira’s father but never seems comfortable as a waiter in an Italian restaurant. While this does take you out of the world of the play somewhat these scenes are brief so you are quickly absorbed back in.
In terms of the set this also doesn’t always work. It isn’t quite as versatile as it initially appears and the pastel colours don’t always fit the tone of the play. However it is clearly designed as a touring set and from a practical point of view it serves its purpose.
Those quibbles aside this is a lovely heart-warming piece that will take you on a roller coaster ride. The audience at the performance I attended were incredibly engaged in the show, cheering when something good happened to the characters. Sighing when they had a bit of bad luck and generally following their story with bated breath. Like all Binchy tales, this is inoffensive and moving with some wonderful observations about Irish society back in the day. It never feels like it has an agenda other than to entertain and it does that in spades and given Binchy’s huge fanbase this should do very well.