A Whistle in the Dark – Abbey Theatre (Peacock Stage) – Review
An Abbey Theatre Production – 4 October – 5 November 2022
Written by Tom Murphy
Images: Ros Kavanagh
This play tells the story of the ‘fighting’ Carney brothers, an Irish family from Mayo. It is set in Coventry in the 1960s, where four of the brothers already live. The oldest of the brothers is Michael (Peter Coonan). He has a decent job and a house with his English wife Betty (Sarah Morris). The three other brothers, Iggy (Peter Claffey), Hugo (Timmy Creed) and Harry (Brian Gleeson), are involved in crime at one level or another. The arrival of the youngest of the brothers, Des (James Doherty O’Brien), along with the patriarch of the family, Dada (Seán Mc Ginley), is the impetus for the events as Michael tries to save his youngest brother from becoming involved in the family business.
While the Druid Murphy season does seem comparatively recent, it is actually 10 years ago, dating back to 2012. The question of ‘how soon is too soon’ crossed my mind when this production was first announced but in truth, there is a whole generation of people who do not know this work or the Druid productions. This study of toxic masculinity is still as relevant today as when it was first produced over 60 years ago.
The set (Cordelia Chisholm) and costume (Saileóg O’Halloran) designers for this production must have been delighted with this gig, as they got to deep dive into the 1960s! The set is a raised box about half the width of the stage, containing the living room of Michael’s house. The small space makes the events more intense and claustrophobic, as the brothers shout and posture in this tiny front room. There is visible damp in the corners of the room as the wallpaper slowly peels off the walls. The costumes are very much of the era, all sharp suits and ties. There are many small touches that really help immerse the audience in the era, and it is an impressive evocation of the age.
The play is a series of battles for dominance between the various family members. The father of the group, Dada, is unwilling or unable to admit his decline. Seán Mc Ginley does well as this man with many failings, including a fierce temper and ego to match. The other battle is between Michael and Harry, as the younger man usurps the older. Brian Gleeson is hugely impressive as the volatile and erratic Harry. Peter Coonan has a more complex character in Michael, a man caught between worlds and failing to break with either side. This is a powerful and demanding production that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre.
Iggy Carney: Peter Claffey
Michael Carney: Peter Coonan
Hugo Carney: Timmy Creed
Des Carney: James Doherty O’Brien
Harry Carney: Brian Gleeson
Mush: Ruairí Heading
Dada: Seán Mc Ginley
Betty: Sarah Morris
Writer: Tom Murphy
Director: Jason Byrne
Set Design: Cordelia Chisholm
Costume Design: Saileóg O’Halloran
Lighting Design: Dara Hoban
Sound Design and Composition: George Brennan
Fight Director: Ciaran O’Grady
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Casting Director: Sarah Jones
Hair and Makeup: Leonard Daly
Publicity Image: Ellius Grace