Killing Grandad – New Theatre – Review
by Fran Winston
Killing Grandad by Jack Harte
3rd March – 14th March
Unless you are a huge fan of Irish mythology you may not have heard of Balor of the Evil Eye and his grandson Lugh on whose story this play is based. Seemingly there was a prophecy that Balor could only die at the hands of someone from his own family line and he went to great lengths to ensure that didn’t happen, including imprisoning his daughter to ensure she wouldn’t fall pregnant. Here we see him confronted by his grandson who intends to kill him. As the pair get acquainted family secrets and resentments come to the fore.
Written by Jack Harte, who clearly has a passion for the subject, this is somewhat reliant on the audience having some prior knowledge of the background to this story. That’s not to say you won’t follow it if you know absolutely nothing about it as there is plenty of exposition. Actually, a little too much as there are some points that are repeated several times as if to reinforce them. Despite this Harte does a good job of conveying the story of the mythical warriors, punctuating the tale with wry humour.
Veteran actor Michael Judd takes on the role of Balor and he seems to relish it. He exudes energy and his tongue dances with the dialogue. He completely embodies this larger than life character (Balor was said to be a giant after all). The role of Lugh is taken on by Kevin McMahon who unfortunately seems somewhat dwarfed by Judd’s energy at times. He doesn’t handle the dialogue as well as Judd and doesn’t convince as a great warrior although he does have one or two nice moments as the truth about his childhood is revealed to him. However, this could have just been down to opening night nerves.
The stage design is very simple, just a couple of tree stumps and a backdrop to give the impression that they are in the wilds. This makes for a lot of empty space on the stage that is never quite filled. Much of the action takes place stage right with Balor sitting down and this does affect the energy of the play. These great warriors spar with their words but not so much physically and it does seem a bit of a waste that they don’t utilise the stage better.
Coming in at around an hour in length, this doesn’t outstay its welcome or get tedious and it has the potential to do well. Although it is set in medieval times the fractious family dynamic is a timeless theme that people will recognise. It is also nice to see Irish mythological characters other than Cu Chulain or the Children of Lir getting a moment in the spotlight.
Funny and engaging this could do with ironing out one or two kinks, but given that I saw it on opening night and it is a brand new play it bodes well for its future.