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A Life, Finborough Theatre

Hugh Leonard
Directed by Eleanor Rhode

Pros: A remarkable script with a knock-out central performance.

Cons: Not every actor can do the Irish accent convincingly which spoils the illusion at times.

Our Verdict: A great revival of an underrated script.

Courtesy of the Finborough Theatre

A Life is a Tony award-nominated play from esteemed Irish playwright Hugh Leonard. The story centres around Desmond Drumm, an embittered civil servant, as he grimly faces his own mortality. Drumm also features as a minor character in Da, Leonard’s most famous work which won a Tony Award in 1978 for Best Play.

Snapdragon Productions are no strangers to The Finborough, having produced Generous in 2010 and The Drawer Boy and Barrow Hill earlier this year. Their acclaimed artistic director Eleanor Rhode has also worked extensively as the Finborough’s assistant director. This is the first UK production of A Life in over 30 years.

The show opens with Desmond Drumm (Hugh Ross) as he discusses the history of his hometown, a seaside suburb of Dublin called Dalkey. Behind him the set is beautifully and creatively painted in white, blue and grey giving the illusion of a rugged coastline. Ross portrays Drumm as a highly intelligent if somewhat arrogant man, very sure of himself and his intellectual abilities. I could talk at length about this performance but can summarise by saying that seeing Hugh Ross on stage is a truly unique experience. He manages to create a character who is not only multi-faceted and engaging but one who will stay with you long after you have left the theatre

Ross is supported by a solid cast particularly Kate Binchy who plays Mary (Drumm’s one true love). Binchy creates a compelling, well-rounded character and the clever banter between the two is fascinating to watch. For me, the highlights of the show were both Drumm’s monologues and the terrific dialogue between himself and Mary. Neil McCaul brings great charm and comedy as Mary’s roguish, wayward husband and adds tension to the scenes where Drumm’s raging jealousy lurks beneath their polite conversations. The play runs in two timelines: Drumm in his twenties and later at the end of his life. David Walshe is very convincing as the young Desmond and compliments his older counterpart perfectly. A beautiful Mary Mallen plays the young Mary with suitable vivaciousness. All of the main characters have an awareness of themselves in the parallel timeline and have the ability to look in on their future/former selves. This is a directorial risk which really pays off as it gives the actors considerable scope to emotionally engage with their past/future. As an audience member I felt I was coming face to face with how human beings change over time.

And now pardon me while I have a little rant: all of the actors in this production are very talented indeed. However, when a glaringly inauthentic accent keeps coming through in the dialogue it tends to destroy the illusion, making it difficult to stay focused. Considering the high standard of scriptwriting and terrific acting, I found this to be a let-down. The last show I went to before this one was an American play. I loved it but the American man beside me sat gritting his teeth the whole way through and shifted uneasily in his seat every time he heard a bad American accent. It makes sense to cast an actor who naturally possesses the accent of the character or who at least can do it convincingly, right? I’m not sure why directors ever cast otherwise. Perhaps the fact that most of this cast are really Irish made it all the more obvious when the accent wasn’t right at all. Another issue I had with the accents in this production is that neither of the younger women matched the accent of the older version of themselves despite the fact that they’ve lived in the same town all their lives. It made it harder to believe that they were meant to be the same person.

Overall, this is a worthwhile production and a fine tribute to a great modern Irish playwright. It is rare to find a central performance as powerful as this one – in such an intimate space too. This is script-writing at its very best in a play which is sadly rarely seen. I urge you to see it while you can.

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

A Life runs at the Finborough Theatre until 27th October 2012.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2012/a-life.php

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