An Old Song, Half Forgotten – Abbey Theatre (Peacock) – Review
14 April – 6 May 2023
Written by Deirdre Kinahan
Directed by Louise Lowe
In this tale, we meet an older man looking back at this life. James O’Brien (Bryan Murray) is a veteran actor with Alzheimer’s. He walks slowly onto the stage while a string quartet plays. The music engulfs him, sending him on a flight of fancy. While he cannot remember yesterday, he can remember in great detail parts of his earlier life. We hear about his childhood in Inchicore, jumping into the cold water of the Liffey and the lane where he was brought up. Later, we hear about his time spent as an actor on the Abbey stage, and also in London.
This new play was written by Deirdre Kinahan and brought to life by the two performers; Bryan Murray and Matthew Malone. The two actors play the same person at different times in their lives. Bryan Murray is James in the present day with Matthew Malone a younger version of the same man. He strives to write down all the memories that Murray says, to stop them from being lost forever!
The structure of the play has the feel of Proust, with his madeleines causing a flood of memories of the past. This work follows a similar theme, with music as the starting point of the experience. The inclusion of a rarely used string quartet, hidden in the wings on stage, does seem self-indulgent but certainly adds to the experience.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that Bryan Murray is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He wears an earpiece for the performance, with another actor Darragh Feehely feeding him lines throughout. Murray carried out a series of interviews earlier this year discussing his illness and he is showing remarkable strength in dealing with it. Murray has been a stalwart of the Irish stage for many years and has appeared in a number of high-profile TV shows such as Bread and Brookside. The Abbey Theatre is said to be his ‘home’ and this return must be a very emotional experience.
The story deals with memories of yesteryear. They are quite poignant and delivered with honesty. While the story told on stage is not Murray’s own experience, there are comparisons with his life as an actor on stage. It is impossible not to let your mind wander and think he is telling his own story. The tale is not particularly different to what we have heard before but the style of the piece will capture you, making it seem quite vivid, like you are trapped in a lucid dream.
Performer: Bryan Murray
Performer: Matthew Malone
Alternate Performer: Barry McGovern
Alternate Performer: Darragh Feehely
Writer: Deirdre Kinahan
Director: Louise Lowe
Set Designer: Conor Jacob
Lighting Designer: Ciaran Bagnall
Sound Designer and Additional Composition: Philip Stewart
Costume Designer: Maree Kearns
Composer: Paul Frost
Personal Assistant and Partner of Bryan Murray: Úna Crawford-O’Brien
Creative Producer: Natasha Duffy
Original Music for String Quartet: Paul Frost
Violinist: Mia Cooper
Violinist: Brigid Leman
Violist: Ed Creedon
Cellist: Aoife Burke
Publicity Image: Pat Redmond
Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review
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