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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Gallant John-Joe


Malcolm Adams in The Gallant John-Joe. Image by Ste Murray.

***

It’s an odd one, dlr Mill Theatre. Not the venue. As arts venues go it’s incredibly welcoming, has its own bar, a plethora of restaurants close by in Dundrum Shopping Centre, and it’s on a Luas Line. What's odd is that it’s not used more by professional theatre companies. Particularly during festival season when venues are at a premium in a city in desperate need of spaces. dlr Mill Theatre’s artistic director Kate Canning, and theatre manager Shona Ashmore, seemingly keen to explore theatrical possibilities. Evident in the divine Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog which ran during Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 to great acclaim, owing much of its success to its development at dlr Mill Theatre.


Not that everything fares as well. dlr Mill Theatre’s current production of Tom McIntyre's The Gallant John-Joe being a case in point. McIntyre’s one man play from 2001 following a worrisome widower from Cavan who blurs the line between the real and the imagined. Determined to determine the identity of the father of his unborn grandchild. Daughter Jacinta, sphinx like, riddles him with mystery. The Chinee who runs the local chipper looking like the chief suspect. But then there’s the local Hitmatist (hypnotherapist) who might know more than he says. Throw in an invisible dog, a condescending Boss-Man, a dead wife, phantom pregnancies, and more lakes in Cavan where a body might never be found, and McIntyre’s divine nonsense soon makes for some wild and wondrous wackiness.

Malcolm Adams in The Gallant John-Joe. Image by Ste Murray.

As roles go, McIntyre’s eccentric widower is demanding at the best of times. More so as the immeasurable shadow of Tom Hickey looms over it. Hickey forever associated with the role in the way Basil Rathbone is with Sherlock Holmes, or Benedict Cumberbatch and…eh, Sherlock Holmes. Malcolm Adams bravely stepping up with a hugely invested performance as the medicine swilling widower, imaginging himself the equal of John-Joe O'Reilly, legendary captain of the 1947 Cavan football team. Adam’s achieving moments bordering on the sublime. Yet not consistently. Due, in part, to Geoff O’Keeffe’s heavy handed direction resulting in problems with pace, which is rushed, along with issues affecting pitch and diction. All having an averse effect on the meandering narrative and on McIntyre’s humour, with timing frequently awry. Nuance and subtlety sacrificed for passion. Which, when passion is called for, lands beautifully. The rest, though, risks feeling like a rant, which O'Keeffe makes compositionally and visually engaging. Aided by Adams’s physically articulate performance.


Still, the whole often makes for heavy going. Florentina Burcea’s set, a grey grave or an industrial handball alley, further weighs on proceedings. As does Declan Brennan’s cheap sounding sound design and Matt Burke’s self-conscious lighting, which achieves moments of beauty when it forgets itself. If Burcea’s costume proves workable, Adam’s luxuriant silver locks suggest less a lonely Cavan man so much as a well groomed Doobie Brother. One with a personal hairstylist and a lifetime supply of conditioner. Adam’s hair being constantly pushed away from his face. Which might be an immaculate look for a Rock God, but here it looks self-consciously like an actor’s tick.

Malcolm Adams in The Gallant John-Joe. Image by Ste Murray.


Ultimately, The Gallant John-Joe is less a play so much as an encounter. A direct experience of an ever shifting soul in an ever shifting world. Adams’s The Gallant John-Joe may lack nuance, but his invested energy catches you at times. For some The Gallant John-Joe might embody an issue that has often dogged dlr Mill Theatre. A sense of it leaning into amateur dramatics rather than professional theatre. If that’s a problem, it’s a solvable problem. One doesn’t necessarily need to exclude the other. Worth a conversation either way, given the dearth and death of venues.


The Gallant John-Joe by Tom McIntyre, runs at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum until Sept 30.


For more information visit dlr Mill Theatre

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