Home » Reviews » Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Donmar Warehouse

Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Donmar Warehouse

Brian Friel
Directed by Lyndsey Turner

Pros: A great script with an interesting concept in splitting the lead role between two actors. Well-acted by a credible cast.

Cons: The stage direction could have been more dynamic and the set design significantly restricted the view from my seat.

Our Verdict: An enjoyable, well-acted production. Full appreciation was hindered by the bizarrely obstructed view so select your seats carefully*!

Courtesy of Johan Persson for The Telegraph

Right – I am going to have a short rant. The Donmar is a relatively small theatre and the seats surround three sides of the stage. I have sat on all sides, in all rows of the stalls over the years so I have no qualms about where I sit as the sets have always accommodated the seating plan. On this occasion, unexpectedly, my front row view was restricted by an upright which framed a seemingly unnecessary heavy mesh screen, behind which quite a lot of the drama occurred. This has never happened before even though I have sat in the very same seat! This really prevented me from engaging with an otherwise well-presented production, which is the reason my experience falls well short of a fourth star.

The play tells the story of Gar O’Donnell’s last day in his home town before emigrating to America (the clue is in the title!). The interesting aspect is that the lead role is split between two actors, one to portray the ‘Public’ persona and one to reveal his ‘Private’ mind. The two take to the stage simultaneously and it is a really fascinating dynamic; Gar Public (Paul Reid) is quiet and still, uttering but a few words when in company, and Gar Private (Rory Keenan) is energetic, eloquent and humorous, challenging his outward self to say more to make the most of his last hours with everything and everyone he knows. The two parts are very well executed and Rory Keenan is particularly good as Gar’s psyche, at times reminiscing, at others a bit psychotic! The symmetry is quite stunning and I don’t know why more dramatists have not taken advantage of this very clever technique.

The play explores some interesting themes, some obvious, some a little esoteric. Communication in relationships is challenged – Gar Private makes it abundantly clear how he feels about the people in his life and wills them to express themselves, but Gar Public never speaks or hears the words. This is echoed by the other characters – his father, S.B O’Donnell (James Hayes), love interest Kate Doogan (Laura Donnelly) and housekeeper Madge (Valerie Lilley) are also not saying what must be going through their own ‘private’ minds. The play emanates frustration, regret and loneliness. Themes around the perception of the past, and how anticipation can lead to disappointment are also present and the supporting cast credibly create the framework in which all of these themes can be explored.

I mentioned esoteric because often throughout the play, when Gar Private is getting agitated, he repeats this line like a mantra: “It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles”. I had to look this up as I had no idea what the significance was or why it was in the text. It turns out to be a quote from a speech by the Irish commentator Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) which laments the passing of an era after Marie Antoinette’s execution. As Gar is about to leave the old ways and ideas forever for the new world USA, this is tenuously poignant, and I think it is the stuff GCSE essays are made of!

This play, written by the dramatist Brian Friel in 1964, is considered to be an important work in Irish drama and I was very much looking forward to this production. I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t wowed either – it was easy to enjoy, very well acted and may have been wonderful had I been able to see it more clearly!

* Our guess is that you want to avoid the stalls rows A-D, numbers 1-6….

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Philadelphia, Here I Come! runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 22nd September.
Box Office: 0844 871 7624 or book online at http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/philadelphia-here-i-come/donmar-warehouse/

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