The Ireland Trilogy - The Family
Thank God It’s Friday
In “The Family,” the first installment of THEATREclub’s daring theatrical endeavour, “The Ireland Trilogy,” the myth of the Irish family is brought under searing scrutiny. Described as a polemic on the contemporary Irish family unit, in truth it’s more of a Dublin family, and not a very modern one at that. Indeed, “The Family” covers much of the same period as Terence Davies' extraordinarily brilliant “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” moving through the 1950’s and 1960’s with a garnish of contemporary references. Yet whereas Davies’ classic is steeped in darkness, THEATREclub’s “The Family” is rich in humour, and is all the better for it. Taking deconstruction of the past, and the stage, to a whole new level, “The Family” is theatre at its wildly exhilarating best.
In “The Family” we journey from the ideal as imagined to the real as experienced in a time of courting beneath Clerys’ clock during dancehalls days, full of knee length dresses, all polka dots and petticoats. Here the boys play knick-knack and never swear. Meanwhile the girls always look pretty and try achieve a Norman Rockwell image of home. The action takes place over the course of a year where the Stepford dolls, and their families and friends, are constantly reliving a Groundhog Friday. Throughout, perma-smiling Gemma announces the perma-Friday time, and the theatrical real time, at irregular intervals. No one can be late for the family dinner no one wants too attend. The mythical proper family meal, never realized, at a dinner table where everyone is trapped and never able to leave. An old story that becomes the basis for every situation comedy and kitchen sink drama ever projected onto a screen. Behind which a threatening and domineering patriarchy looms, capable of destroying its men as well as its women, and of bringing the whole edifice tumbling down as the world is slowly torn apart.
Romantic Ireland may be dead and gone, but in “The Family” we get to see the dying and the death throes. Under Grace Dyas exceptional direction, everything is richly compact and condensed, as if an Irish “Happy Days,” with its faux sentimentality and charm, had crashed headlong into a reality TV docudrama. All of which is wonderfully supported by Doireann Cody’s ingeniously clever set design. Performers Shane Byrne, Lauren Larkin, Louise Lewis, Barry O’Connor, Nyree Yergainharsian, Gemma Collins and Gerard Kelly each turn in extraordinarily strong performances, with Kelly being an absolute joy and revelation to watch. Indeed, so strong is Kelly’s presence that his prolonged departure tilts “The Family’s” balance from character to complete focus on abstraction and symbolism. As a result, the prolonged preparation and eating ritual around the Irish family dinner table, with its deep felt frustrations, lingers a fraction too long as characters get cast adrift momentarily in the ideas. But it's all brought fascinatingly home in the end, and if the bulk of Nyree Yergainharsian’s final words are lost against the din surrounding her, we still manage to get the point.
Like ANU’s groundbreaking, “The Monto Cycle,” THEATREclub’s “The Ireland Trilogy” interrogates the cultural, social and political fabric of Irish identity in a production whose impact reaches far beyond the work itself. In "The Family" everyday may be Friday, but it’s always a good Friday, in every sense of the word. Fast, funny and utterly fearless, “The Family” is a heartfelt breath of theatrical fresh air.
“The Family” along with “HEROIN” and “HISTORY” comprise the “The Ireland Trilogy” by THEATRECLUB. All three productions are currently running at The Peacock Stage at The Abbey Theatre until November 26th.