Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 25th September, 2013. To read the original, please click here
Gerard Humphrey’s The Boys- the latest in a list of plays performed at The New Theatre that carry a sociopolitical punch tells the story of Michael Connors, a young Traveller who finds himself marooned between the fraught tensions erupting within his extended family and the failure and shortcomings of the Irish judicial system and social services.
Opening, as it does, during a seisiún ceol in the aftermath of a Traveller’s funeral, The Boys – somewhat dangerously – aligns itself to Stage Irish perceptions of Irish life and, well, Irish theatre. Even an impassioned monologue from actor Michael Collins struggles to distance the opening scene from the jaded clichés that have, through the years, riddled otherwise good productions.
What one eventually realizes, however, is that the tired traditionalism of the opening scene is merely a starting point for a play that explores one young man’s quest for liberation from what the late Liam Clancy once termed “bad tradition”. Playing Michael Connors, the play’s protagonist, Drogheda native Barry Morgan shines in an understated and well-crafted performance, which works beautifully against Conall Keating’s operatic and accomplished performance as his violent, menacing and increasingly unpredictable nephew; a character pitched somewhere between The Playboy of the Western World’s Christy Mahon and The Godfather’s Sonny Carleone. Interestingly, Morgan is almost always center stage, further emphasizing his being stuck between the central dilemmas of the play.
Hovering over both men is The Don (Séamus Moran), who, in a sense, represents the loss of tradition towards a more materialistic, pseudo American and feckless being. The Don is a wayward devil and the architect of the nightmarish world inhabited by the Connors family, always leading the boys of the play’s title down a slippery slope of violence, recklessness and alcoholism.
In its weaker moments, however, The Boys plays subserviently to the expectations of Official Ireland. During the play, Barry Morgan’s Michael finds himself at the mercy of social workers (played by David O’Meara and Róisín O’Neill), one of whom offers Michael marijuana and later defends him from a violent priest who beats him, promising the priest that he- the social worker- will report the priest to members of An Garda Síochána. It’s a contrived scene that seeks to pit the left against the right; progressive attitudes against outmoded views of “the plain people of Ireland” that lacks any subtly or surprise and spoils a production that works best when it capitalizes on its well-written characters.
For all the lack of subtlety in key scenes, however, The Boys ends on a dénouement that is utterly unforgettable; Barry Morgan brilliantly delivers the play’s final line of dialogue, which, like all great final lines, echoes the thematic concerns threaded throughout the play and leaves audience members with a sense that they have seen the ending of an age and a way of living.
Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The New Theatre
Written by: Gerard Humphreys
Directed by: Patrick Joseph Byrnes
Cast: Michael Collins, Seamus Moran, Barry Morgan, Conall Keating, Kate Gilmore, Róisín O’Neill