Writers: Emma O’Grady and Paddy O’Grady
Directors: Jonathan Gunning, Catherine Ireton, Andy Smith, and Catherine Lynch
Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy
According to Emma O’Grady, people die twice. Once when you breathe your last breath, and again when someone says your name for the last time. In this touching and revealing performance, O’ Grady is ensuring that her grandfather’s name remains present for years to come.
Paddy O’Grady is Emma O’Grady’s grandfather. When he was alive he recorded stories onto a series of cassette tapes. After his death, those tapes fell into the hands of his granddaughter, who listened to them, and decided that they needed an audience. That is where we come in.
Nestled in the cosy confines of An Taibhdhearc, the National Irish Language Theatre/Amharclann Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, What Good is Looking Well When You’re Rotten on the Inside? has found its natural home. Running as part of this year’s annual Galway Theatre Festival, the production emulates that familiar cosiness most of us associate with our grandparent’s houses. The set, designed by Emma O’Grady and Rob Moloney, exudes parochial charm and provides the perfect frame for both O’Gradys to tell their stories. O’Grady presents the piece in an artistically self-conscious form, none of the staging decisions are left a secret to the audience, and this adds to the piece’s overall charm.
What Good is Looking Well… has found its relevance in contemporary concerns, with religion, class, and the role of women in Irish life at the forefront of the production’s narrative. This reviewer can’t help but think that Paddy O’Grady was a man before his time.
O’Grady is at her strongest when she finds her own voice. When revealing the culmination of her research into her ancestry she humorously quips that “women appear on the family tree as if from nowhere”, alluding to the patriarchal tradition of women taking their husbands names, and thus writing over their previous identities and heritage. It feels very fitting in this context.
The staging itself is beautifully realised. Several audio speakers adorn the stage, with several hanging over the scene like a mechanical mobile, jarring with the cosiness of the set. Out of these speakers comes the voice of Paddy O’ Grady, and at times Emma herself. The effect is warm and intimate. Emma is her grandfather and she is telling his stories, but she never loses her own voice.
This production provides the audience with a feast of nostalgia, sentimentality, and a picture of relationships past and present. This is a play about family, but also about individuality. It makes for a great story. Paddy’s tapes are the focus of this piece, but it is Emma O’Grady’s skill as a performer that gives them new life.
What Good Is Looking Well… is a striking piece of theatrical work, which will ensure O’Grady’s well-earned place in the Irish theatre canon. This is a playwright to watch.
Runs until 21 April 2017 | Image: Contributed