Tuesday, May 28

Brendan Son of Dublin – The Tung Auditorium

In the 100th anniversary year of the birth of the infamous Brendan Behan, Fatdan Productions present the second of their musical dramas focusing on the ‘outsider’, following their 2021 play on Oscar Wilde, as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival.

Written by John Merrigan and with music and lyrics by Danielle Morgan, director and visual artist Professor Pamela Howard OBE presents a semi-staged production to explore the enigma that is Behan. With the simplest of staging that includes three stools, three chairs, and a clothes rack, Behan (Pádraig Lynch) steps through the key phases of his life from impassioned young Republican through to literary lush, with supporting characters portrayed by an ensemble (Gillian McCafferty; John Newcombe; Jack Klaff; Ann Marcuson; Ross Scarfield) and the support of Musical Director Brian Hughes and Costume Supervisor Olivia Gough.

The golden advice to every writer is to show not tell, but unfortunately here we are told too much. As Gabriel Byrne was mentioned afterwards it’s only fair that I recall his advice to treat your audience as intelligent, since it would be a fair assumption for this subject that the majority watching would be very aware of Behan’s reputation in life and literature. There is also a risk when you focus on a theme such as ‘outsider’ that you fit the facts to support your narrative rather than the narrative supporting the facts.

Whilst Behan is a fascinating character, his motives and motivation are undoubtedly complex and I’m not sure one can easily get beneath the skin of the character, but one can certainly explore him through his relationship with others such as his wife, Beatrice (Marcuson), theatre impresario’s Joan Littlewood (McCafferty) and Gerry Raffles (Newcombe), and even journalists looking for a headline (Scarfield). These scenes, which burst more into life in the second half – giving the cast something to get their teeth into and to which they responded strongly – were more successful in showing his character and behaviour around others although occasionally strayed into lecture with some conversations less believable.

Lynch caught the character of Behan as we most recognise him with a strong matching stage presence throughout which I particularly enjoyed in those more engaging scenes, and whilst Klaff’s portrayal of the Cities of Dublin and New York was inspired, it too had a knack of becoming instruction which detracted from his performance.

Less is often more, and the minimalist staging worked well with the costume changes behind the clothes rack cleverly orchestrated by Gough, providing an intriguing backdrop to the unfolding action.

The musical accompaniments were well delivered but never felt fully interwoven into the production, and often didn’t move the storyline forward. Hughes was accomplished on both piano and flute and Marcuson’s delightful solos at the end of each half were respectively full of promise and incredibly moving, with the latter receiving a deserved break for applause, which in itself made me wonder whether the real story to tell here was Beatrice’s: her father was a drunkard and she fell in love with one who she stood by through everything, demonstrating a strength of character that in those times was never fully recognised or appreciated in a woman; despite the current rhetoric, I’m not sure that’s changed much either.

The production, possibly because of its immediacy after nine days of rehearsals, was overlong resulting in many people rushing for trains at the end and unable to partake in the after-show Q&A led by Professor Peter Shirlow of The Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, although I would have preferred longer answers to shorter questions.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 28th October 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.