Jackanory. A word describing a childrens television programme in which stories were read aloud and, in common parlance, the telling of a tall tale exaggerated beyond all credibility. It's a case of the best of both worlds in Billy Roche’s latest play “The Diary of Maynard Perdu.” Making a bumpy transition from page to stage, Roche’s novella makes some big asks in the process. All of which are amply compensated for by a larger-than-life, one man performance by an impressive Peter McCamley.
In Roche’s problematic tears-of-a-clown styled tale the eponymous Maynard Perdu is a legend in his own mind. And like all self-made legends he has only one topic of conversation, usually goes on for far too long, and invariably overstays his welcome. Like a second-rate Casanova, or a hand-me-down drag queen, Perdu is constantly performing in his own version of fabulousness. A frail attempt to conceal the tears underneath. The optimistic pessimist with a patter in verbal helter-skelter, Perdu finds himself and his traveling Spiegeltent in Wexford one auspicious day. There, a sense of deja-vu and the sight of his long lost love open up closed off avenues. In a world, like Perdu, that is always unstable, where canes and top hats crash up against talk of DNA, something’s going to give. But will the real world, and Perdu, reveal themselves behind their imagined romance? Or is history forever doomed to repeat itself in an endless reality of illusion and delusion?
A sensitive tale showing a lot of heart, narratively, “The Diary of Maynard Perdu” takes a long time to get there, relying heavily on a central conceit which, once flipped, takes things a little deeper but not by far. A big man telling a big story becomes a small man telling a big story, becomes a small man telling a small story. All told through bright, childlike, coloured costumes which exaggerate Perdu’s own childlike qualities. Efforts to explore theatre as mask and catharsis opens up some interesting possibilities, but they‘re never quite followed through, lost amidst a clunky theatricality that, if sublime at times, is surprisingly weak at others. A wonderful interplay with mops, reminiscent of Ronan Dempsey’s excellent one man performance The Words Are There, sees some delightful visuals. Yet Mark Redmond’s awkward and fussy set often leaves a lot to be desired. A wonderful, adjustable box of tricks downstage shows Redmond at his ingenious best, but the rest is cluttered and unsure of itself, often seeming unnecessary, and surprisingly hampering and hindering performance as times.
As is often the case with Roche, music and song go a long way to informing proceedings, with Terry Byrne’s sound design helping establish, and reinforce, the plays storytelling feel. But if the story is not all it might have been, the storyteller is simply spectacular. Like a deranged childrens TV presenter, Peter McCamley climbs, sings, articulates and annunciates with endlessly ease, engaging the audience with a towering performance. In the end, like its namesake, “The Diary of Maynard Perdu” might flatter to deceive in places, but never so much that its allure or charm wears off.
“The Diary of Maynard Perdu” written and directed by Billy Roche, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until Sept 8
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre