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  • Chris O'Rourke

Oh, Brother

Callum Maxwell and Ruairí Lenaghan in Oh, Brother. Image by Sadhbh McLoughlin


Micheal from Meath and Matthew from Monaghan both share the same Mam, Mary. Yet until today they didn’t know the other existed. Learning the news, Matthew, given up for adoption as a result of heinous Catholic practices towards unmarried mothers, decides to make contact with his younger half-brother Michael. Wondering what’s he like? Why was he kept while Matthew was given up? Will he be impressed that Matthew’s in a band (guitarist, not lead singer)? Will he be able to fill the hole Matthew feels inside himself? Is Michael wondering the exact same things? And what about their mother? In Callum Maxwell’s seriously impressive debut Oh, Brother, two brothers project their fears and hopes onto the imagined other as their world undergoes a major upheaval. Forcing them to re-evaluate their sense of family, and of self, in a thoughtful production original mounted in Dublin Fringe 2022. One showcasing two major talents, one seriously impressive young writer, and a script with a strange affinity for names beginning with the letter M.

Is blood thicker than water? Is genetics (nature) deeper than environment (nurture)? Will he like me? The questions come hard and fast in Maxwell’s lightning paced script. A little too fast at times, which, if true to Maxwell’s energised, nineteen year old, Michael, can speed past key moments like a bullet train. Ruairí Lenaghan’s Matthew, thirty-one, single, living in Dublin with an office job, moves at a slower, wiser pace that grounds it all beautifully. Contrasting superbly with Michael’s motor mouth youthfulness, magnifying Matthew’s big brother maturity. Both performances, under Lee Coffey’s assured direction, infused with an energy that keeps pace cracking along.

Callum Maxwell and Ruairí Lenaghan in Oh, Brother. Image by Sadhbh McLoughlin

Not that it gets off to a cracking start. Beginning with alternating rhyming verse, like weak slam poetry, there’s a worried moment when it all looks like Howie The Rookie: The Hallmark Years. But Coffey directs cleverly, ensuring Maxwell’s poetic rhythms are utilised as an accentuating secondary device subservient to the conversational narrative. Helped by Maxwell’s rhymes getting stronger as the play progresses. If Kathy Ann Murphy’s set looks like an afterthought for the most part, its stained class feature ensures we never forget the shame that lies behind the story.

Enjoyable as they are telling their tale, Maxwell and Lenaghan are even better when they show it; the final, sensitive image a thing of beauty. And again, when rocking out to what’s rapidly becoming the latest theatrical convention: the obligatory 80s singalongapopsong. If the plot has holes, straining at the seams in places with key questions not properly addressed, the lightweight whole is robust enough to deliver a significant emotional whack, along with some serious laughs. With Maxwell and Lenaghan showing such sublime sibling chemistry the suspicious might want to check their birth certs. Making Oh, Brother thoroughly heartfelt and entertaining, at lunchtime or otherwise, while announcing Maxwell as a new writing talent worth keeping an eye on.

Oh. Brother, by Callum Maxwell, presented by Bewley’s Café Theatre and Ragged Ruin, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until March 4.

For more information visit Bewley’s Café Theatre

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