Review: The Big Fellow - Lyric Theatre

The Big Fellow at the Lyric Theatre. Picture by Tom Maher
Jane Hardy

WATCHING The Big Fellow play out the Michael Collins story on St Patrick's weekend at the Lyric Theatre, you sensed a problem.

It's revealing that playwright Declan Gorman says in the programme Co-Motion Media's show was initially denied funding. There's a potentially ace drama in Gorman's two-hander which hasn't really found the exit.

Yet the big idea, of framing the story with Frank O'Connor typing his biography of Collins, is nice. And Collins does, after all, occupy a key position in Irish culture. The inventor of guerilla warfare during Ireland's fight for independence and a tortured hero (Ian Toner did that bit very well), he's so revered many families say they've been handed down the great man's christening robe.

Gorman's use of the O'Connor text is post-modern. It's funny when (dead) Collins pleads with the author: "Can we keep the girls out of this?" In spite of brief references to Kitty Kiernan, they do.

We began at the end, with an enactment of Collins' death by ambush. So far, so dramatic. The two actors - Toner and Gerard Adlum who does a mean Mark Gatiss mannered version of de Valera - work well together on the whole. Yet we also had some longueurs and clunky dialogue of the "I then signed the declaration" variety.

The comic passages were funny, including a Keystone cops scene with de Valera escaping with Collins' help from prison in England. The facts about the struggle still shock, of course. The way the Kilmainham Gaol executions triggered Collins' passionate need to avenge them - "There will be a reckoning." becomes his mantra - was well done.

As O'Connor's mother wrote to him when he was a prisoner of war: "If there were no wild boys, there would be no great men."

The show, directed by the author, has toured in the south since the centenary of the Easter Rising and visited Mumbai. I wonder what India made of it?

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