- Chris ORourke
The Midas Touch
Say “The Snapper” and people instantly smile. The centrepiece in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy, “The Snapper” has garnered legions of adoring fans, first as a novel in 1990, and then as a much loved film in 1993. Now, twenty-five years later, Doyle reimagines “The Snapper” for the stage as part of Selina Cartmell’s inaugural Outsider season at The Gate. If a classic is something that stands the test of time, “The Snapper” seems to be proving itself deserving of the accolade. For with “The Snapper” Doyle, once again, shows he has the Midas touch. And with a production that features a stellar cast, a laugh a minute script, and a cracking 80’s soundtrack, Cartmell has struck gold.
Following the Rabbite family as they come to terms with eldest daughter Sharon's unplanned pregnancy, “The Snapper” offers slices of life from Northside Dublin in the 1980s. And so much more. Beneath Doyle's earthy and recognisible Dublin humour, deeper interrogations are taking place giving substance to the hilarity. Questions of family, community, friendship, and gender dominate, informing much of the laughter. Launching straight in, Doyle’s delightful script kicks off like a high-speed rollercoaster and never lets up, shifting with cinematic ease from scene to scene. Retaining a high degree of faithfulness to the film, with one notable exception, “The Snapper” conveys the joy, shame, scandal, and terror of Sharon's pregnancy with warmth, heart and an abundance of laughs.
Director Róisín McBrinn, making her Gate debut, makes some strong and decisive choices which pay off handsomely. Revelling in Doyle's rich humour, McBrinn is unafraid to embrace its cartoonish, larger than life quality. Indeed, Paul Willis’ superb set, comprised of endless frames and screens, with the latter wonderfully recreating the 1980s courtesy of Conan McIvor's video design, allows McBrinn to marry the cinematic with the comic book. Something to which Doyle's short scened script lends itself to perfectly. Indeed, looking and feeling at times like “The Snapper” graphic novel, McBrinn and Willis’ visually sensibility hauls the 1980s into the twenty-first century, ably supported by Paul Keogan’s superb lighting design. Embracing bus stops, 80’s music posters, and endless wall paper, Willis’ shifting set suggests places as well as times. A series of three floating spaces, a bedroom, kitchen, and couch, serve not only to shift between scenes, but also inform the whirling, wild energy that is the lifeblood of the Rabbite household.
McBrinn also shows an astute understanding of Doyle's script, which remains faithful to Sharon's experiences yet is balanced with a stronger sense of family, friendship, and community. Secondary characters like the accident prone Darren, superbly played by Jason Cullen, and the dancing twins, delightfully realised on opening night by Alannah Browne and Kayleigh Farrelly, are given much more presence and impact. As indeed are Sharon's trio of friends, made up of an excellent Kate Gilmore as the loyal Jackie, a mesmerising Niamh Branigan as the betrayed Yvonne, and an utterly amazing Amilia Stewart as the ditzy Mary. Simon O’Gorman’s perfectly pitched Georgie proves to be a sheer delight, as is Carmel Stephens as his Jane Fonda workout wife.
All of whom gravitate around three stunning central performances. Hilda Fay as Veronica, a wife and mother with an ever loving smile and a dislike of bad language, except when it comes to sequins, is hands down brilliant in a stunning and understated performance. Proud, determined, and cackling with laughter, Hazel Clifford’s Sharon is a tour de force. As is Simon Delaney's Jimmy Rabbite. No mean feat following Colm Meaney’s Golden Globe nominated performance. But whether juggling the trials of family life, considering new sexual positions to Careless Whisper, or mansplaining pregnancy to a pregnant woman, Delaney is absolute dynamite, owning it every step of the way. Yet despite their excellent performances, all risk being savagely upstaged by a scene stealing dog.
And yet, not all that glisters is gold, especially the stand out deviation from the film which proves to be the most significant flaw on a near perfect night; the final scene. Prior knowledge of the movie, and indeed the production itself, suggest something much more uplifting and inclusive, especially given the journey and the excellent family dynamics that preceded it. Instead, emptied of presences you wanted to see share in the experience, the whole feels somewhat unresolved, leaving you lamenting a moment missed, or wondering if the house lights came on too early.
A case could also be made that perhaps not all scenes are necessary, with transitions between scenes not always being as sharp as they might have been. Yet, transitions aside, this fails to acknowledge that, like a rich and complex dish, some ingredients, even the most minimal, often contribute to the overall flavour. If some scenes appear too short, or to end prematurely, they often add to the overall richness, and certainly do not make the two and a half hour running time feel laboured. Indeed, you're most likely to be having so much fun, it will feel like a matter of minutes.
Feeling, at times, like an Irish Simpsons or Married With Children, “The Snapper” holds its own with the classic greats of comic, family dramas. If this were Broadway or the West End, “The Snapper” would be set to run and run and run. As it is, it's only here till September. So book now to avoid disappointment, and make sure you don't miss what is, undoubtedly, the feel good hit of the summer.
Be advised: could result in spontaneous outbursts of laughter, tears, and singing.
“The Snapper” by Roddy Doyle, runs at The Gate Theatre until September 15
For more information, visit The Gate Theatre