Light A Penny Candle – Gaiety Theatre – Review by Paddy McGovern
Dates: 23rd Apr. – 4th May.
Directed by Peter Sheridan
Adapted by Shay Linehan
Over forty years ago, with the brilliant film of Maeve Binchy’s Deeply Regretted By and even in her little one-act play End of Term, Binchy showed her magical touch in conjuring up believable characters and engaging situations, the stuff of real theatre. What Peter Sheridan’s production of her Light A Penny Candle shows above all is just how difficult it is to adapt a novel – especially one with so wide and deep a sweep as this one – and to forge it into a play. Shay Linehan’s adaptation attempts to shoehorn all the main plot lines into a single coherent drama. It doesn’t work; not as a piece of theatre. That is not to say it won’t be enjoyed by many: predictably it was greeted with a cheering standing ovation.
Serious themes such as state repression of women, marital violence, sexual impotence, the value of enduring friendship between two women, abortion… these and many more issues are included. However, like several of the characters, the themes are inadequately developed. Even main characters like Aisling’s husband, Tony, is a mere cypher. Subtlety is in short supply. Far too much is presented as broad, almost pantomime like fun, the deeper import of many lines being lost since played for laughs. In this production, laughter does not leaven the darker issues; it smothers them. A drunken night sees an actor flail around swinging a bottle and bawling a ballad, like something from the 19th century portrayal of primitive Paddy in Victorian cartoons. Some characters such as the Mad Morrison seem to serve little purpose and their omission would help to trim a two-and-a-half hour show to something more appropriate.
One is left with the sense that the piece might work better as a one-woman show – perhaps for radio – as it would allow space for reflection on some of the serious issues that could be explored rather than glossed over.
Photograph: Caleb Purcell