@ Bestseller – 41 Dawson Street
Written by: Neil Flynn
Director: Rex Ryan
Actors: Evanne Kilgallon and Kyle Nixon
Duration: Almost two hours with interval
The Bestseller Cafe at 41 Dawson Street hosts this production in its small but comfortable 60 seater theatre space. You can eat from the tasty menu before the play or order from a decently priced tapas interval menu. There is attentive table service and the Donna Summer medley entertained the audience before curtain up! Bestseller is a welcome additional theatre space to this venue starved Capital city and it is well located.
Glass Mask Theatre Company knows how to manage very small performance spaces. The strong and hectic direction by Rex Ryan, enhances his distinguished Bourke theatrical ancestry, as he keeps this piece always visually and audibly interesting at a fast pace throughout. With two cubes and a wall safe as a set, the impressive lighting belied the space, no bigger than two sofas.
Actors Evanne Kilgallon and Kyle Nixon’s outstanding performances remind us of the fundamental difference between the digital performances that substituted for theatre during the Covid lockdowns, which is the impact and experience of live theatre. Their endless energy, connection, incredible versatility and flawless diction never faltered in this memory challenging piece that leaves the audience and performers as one… exhausted.
Writer Neil Flynn loves his history and detail. He hurls thousands of facts about telegraphy’s origins, radio engineering, and cut-throat business, in a very long and challenging factual presentation on a topic that clearly engages him. At times, his academic penchant for details and obscure information overwhelms as it is included at the expense of human exploration – an essential ingredient of drama.
The play covers 170 years, 100 characters and one revolution. Does it need to? The only character we get any insight into is the insomniac, self-made, driven visionary Cyrus West Field, who on his fifth expensive try, successfully laid the underwater telegraphic cable that connected Newfoundland to Valentia Island in Kerry and onward. The bulk of the play takes place over 20 years and the next 150 years are crammed into the final twenty minutes. Field, we hear, dies in lesser circumstances and we never know or understand why. That could be the story that this drama needs? There is only so much factual detail to be taken in by the audience, no matter how well relayed. The detailed text reminds us that ‘732 messages were relayed by the underwater cable in four weeks’. We seemed to be getting that number of facts every four minutes.
Sometimes two plays appear in one. The natural interval here is before Eddison and the many inventors of the 20th century, Bell, Fleming, Marconi et al, appear over 70 minutes into the chock-a-block story. This sparse human storyline is dispensed with, so that the technological evolutions which rest on his weary shoulders, get their say in the twentieth century. The inspiration for this piece is Field’s achievement. The story is rightly his. It would enhance the drama and the play greatly if he was allowed his final chapter. Perhaps it is something for this talented writer and an editor to consider as a more natural end to the play.
That being said, there is no denying Flynn’s intelligent treatment of this complex history. He hugely respects his audience with the quality of his research. He greatly challenges his actors with endless glimpses of characters and facts and the actors rise to that challenge magnificently. He must be delighted with this fine production.