Philo – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre – Review
by Frank L.
April 11 – 23, 2022 – Time: 1pm
The set is a mixture of a canteen kitchen and a chapel cluttered with pots and pans, a stained glass window and a large holy statue. There is a sign stating “Sheriff Street”. It also becomes a place of refuge. It works remarkably well.
Philo (Neili Conroy) according to the programme notes is based on a woman who Sheridan met in the north inner city in the early 1980s when he had founded a community-based drama project. She is a theatrical creation in the tradition of Sean O’Casey’s Juno or Jimmy O’Dea’s Biddy Mulligan. She is a woman who knows her own pitch, Sheriff Street, is proud that she is of Sheriff Street and has contempt for culchies. Whilst Sister Rosaleen (Karen McCartney), may be Philo’s boss in the centre in which she works, Rosaleen is a culchie from Clonakilty and she displays her ignorance of Dublin in her choice of words. Philo has no hesitation in correcting her. She is the mother of five with a particularly difficult fifteen-year-old boy. The other men in her life, including her husband, have been of little or no help to her. But in spite of her various problems, including her weight, she is a joyous soul. Gradually Philo and Rosaleen find they both have pasts that they have hidden for different reasons. In fact, when they reveal their full stories to each other they have a great deal in common.
Sheridan has written a rip-roaring Dublin script in which given her ebullient nature Philo has most of the best lines. The programme notes state that Conroy is thrilled to be playing the part and her performance is a tour de force. McCartney has an uncertain start as she plays the role of a self-effacing nun carrying out her conventional social duties. She also has the disadvantage that Philo is already established before Rosaleen enters. McCartney has a difficult task to stand up to Conroy given the unequal strengths of Philo and Rosaleen but McCartney gradually carves out a terrain for her character Rosaleen which Philo respects.
It is great that live theatre is once again becoming the norm after the pandemic. Sheridan has created a fine piece of lunchtime theatre. He richly deserved the audience’s enthusiastic applause.
Philo – Written and directed by Peter Sheridan
Starring Neili Conroy (as Philo) and Karen McCartney (as Sister Rosaleen)