The Thing About December – Town Hall Theatre, Galway – Review
by Frank L.
Until June 22nd
The Thing about December – Adapted by Jarlath Tivnan in collaboration with Andrew Flynn from the novel by Donal Ryan
Johnsey Cunliffe (Ruairi Heading) is an only child. He is a bit ‘soft’ and his parents, as best they can, try to protect him from the unkindness of his contemporaries and the condescension of the neighbours and his relatives. But after the death of his parents, he has to fend for himself in a world made lonely by their absence.
The cast contains twelve actors in all. At the beginning Johnsey’s early life, in the security of his mother (Anne Marie Horan) and father (Frankie McCafferty) is recalled by him as well as the misery of his tormentors led by one Eugene (Patrick Ryan). There is also brought to life a collection of aunts and neighbours of varying degrees of venality whose selfishness is only fully revealed once the parents have died. Johnsey is left painfully alone in the house which had been a safe, secure place.
However, as a result of a mishap he finds himself in hospital where he is joined by one Mumbly Dave (Jarlath Tivnan) also the victim of an accident. Their nurse Siobhan (Maeve Fitzgerald) or Lovely Voice brings delight to the pair of them. But once the hospital stay is over and they are returned to health, the relationships between these three becomes more complex and darker.
The set is primarily that of the kitchen in Johnsey’s house but it has to embrace several scenes outside as well and this is achieved by the use of a walk way across the back of the stage. The locations and the characters change often but the principal story is that of Johnsey. He therefore, for much of the play, is sitting at the kitchen table looking out at the audience.
Although Johnsey is undoubtedly mentally slow he is not a fool. In fact, in many ways he represents decency in a society dominated by avarice and selfishness. Heading does convey these very different characteristics even if Johnsey’s loneliness is somewhat lost in the activity of the second part. Tivnan as Mumbly Dave was another lonely figure but of an entirely different stripe. His loneliness is masked by carefree divilment and Tivnan was in his element at being mischievous. In the hospital scene he and Heading made a formidable duo. Fitzgerald added a terrific further element so that the three of them combined to make the hospital ward one of high comedy.
With such a large cast this is not an ideal production to tour but it will be a pity if it is not seen outside its current venue. It brings into the light the rot that underlies the respectable and the value of a person who wants to appreciate the simple things that surround him. Johnsey is not without his flaws but they are small to the flaws of those who dominate his adult life. In his programme note Donal Ryan states “I love Johnsey, maybe a bit too much”. That is understandable. Johnsey is worth encountering.