Uncle Ray – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review
by John McB
Uncle Ray by David Bolger produced by CoisCéim
The CoisCéim website states “This is a poignant story about the elasticity of truths and how family lore shapes us.” The family story is primarily set in Dublin in the 1970s. Where a television was then the newest and most desirable consumer product but they were expensive so the majority were rented. In addition, there were only two stations RTE and HTV which came from Wales. Both broadcast only in black and white and the reception was unreliable. To improve it there was a piece of bent wire like a clothes hanger that had to be jiggled around. It is this world that Bolger brings back to life.
The set consists of a 1970’s television and a standard lamp of the same vintage or maybe even earlier. The two together create an ambience of a family sitting room which is further emphasised by a lampshade which in its scalloped form with a floral covering harks back to a more secure time.
Into this world, Uncle Ray pays an annual visit. He is none other than the actor Ray Bolger who plays the marvellous scarecrow in the gloriously coloured Wizard of Oz but of course, on the seventies television set it is black and white. Bolger gives you a potted history of his family. He does this with a variety of images and scenes which includes the Scarecrow in the Wizard lamenting that he has a pole for his back. In creating this world Bolger is complemented by Donking Rongavilla, from the Philippines, whose father was a well-known Filipino actor. Donking comes from a world of street and contemporary dance and he too has family lore and traditions which are revealed. Bolger and Rongavilla enchant with various simple but beautifully executed routines not least one with a Homberg hat. Although their pasts are different and there is an age gap each has a father who has died; Donking’s within the last six months and in the case of Bolger more than twenty-five years ago.
The two dancers create a world of nostalgia as grown men exploring their childhood. It is not sentimental. It is part of the very essence of both men as adults and with joy and humour, they reveal it and share it with the audience. The result is a production that warmly exudes a feel-good factor.