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  • Chris O'Rourke


Niamh McGrath in GomBean. Image Anna Leask


Grace O’Malley. Robot barista. Exuding the acidic warmth of a lukewarm expresso. An avid people watcher, Grace is seriously lacking in people skills. Sipping gin from the safety of her judgemental, ivory horse box, Grace sells the worst coffee in Finchestown. Bemoaning her lot to the loyal Gwen, the matriarchal Maggie, or anyone who’ll listen. A has-been wrestler who never really was, Grace has a chip on the chip on her shoulder, mourning the injury that ended her career. And now her coffee business might go the same way unless Grace steps back into the ring one more time. In Niamh McGrath's energetic GomBean pride goes before a fall as a monument to self pity receives a second chance at life. But who’d bet on a two time loser becoming one of life’s success stories?

If ever someone had an excess of talent, McGrath is it. Story, character, accents, physical theatre; McGrath does it all. Yet though GomBean ploughs wide, covering acres of ground, narratively it loses impact for never digging deep enough. Character and story suffering most; the former for being mainly caricatures, the latter for being undercooked. Even as McGrath’s observational insights regarding a small rural community prove hilarious. Like a Halls Pictorial Weekly sketch that runs too long, GomBean shines with moments of real humour and insight. But its legs buckle as it tries to stand on its narrative feet. The tidied up ending feeling like a rushed Hail Mary, one of several key moments you don’t quite buy. Made noticeable when contrasted with moments of genuine cleverness. Moments richly detailed and developed, like the name itself.

Niamh McGrath in GomBean. Image Anna Leask

Performatively, McGrath resembles a proverbial jack of all trades. Jokes, physical comedy, observational comedy, GomBean throws everything, including the kitchen sink, hoping something will stick (which much of it does). Yet like too many toppings on a pizza, not everything sits well together. Seamus O’Rourke’s direction tossing around too many ingredients unevenly. Like McGrath's script some scenes are not given enough time, while others are allowed linger too long, with not enough hitting the cohesive sweet spot to achieve a proper balance. The whole a heady mix of clowning, children's show and chaotic comedy. Still, if GomBean scores points rather than goals, they all add up to a comfortable enough victory. Structured like a screenplay for a movie you’ve already seen, this wild character study sits uneasily between caricatures bordering on the cartoonish and recognisable souls you can really connect with. And when it hits the heartfelt funny bone, GomBean can be seriously funny.

GomBean by Niamh McGrath, produced by Hawkswell Theatre, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until July 8.

For more information visit Bewley’s Café Theatre


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