Writer: Dermot Bolger
Director: Mark O’Brien
Reviewer: Saoirse Anton
From Wyoming to Whitehall, the well known Dublin character Thomas “Bang Bang” Dudley kept the streets of Dublin safe with his “trusty, rusty key,” for decades. Travelling on the trams and buses of the city, Bang Bang would leap out, point his Colt ’45 key at passers-by and shoot them with a cry of “bang bang!” Many people would play along, falling down in slow motion, playing dead on the pavement. The city joined in his game, but the game masked a sad story, one which Dermot Bolger’s play, directed by Mark O’Brien, recounts with a balance of tragedy and humour that brings the story of Dublin’s best-known gunslinger to life.
Playing a tired but vibrant Lord Dudley the Devil, as Bang Bang has christened himself in later life, as he tells the story of his life from the Rosminian Fathers’ home for the blind in Drumcondra, Pat McGrath delivers an engaging and enthralling performance. He describes himself as a man “ambushed by time,” and this play captures that man, and his city that has suffered the same fate. As he tells the stories of his gunslinging days Bang Bang paints a picture of a city that welcomed his game, such as in the story of his escapades on the number nineteen “stagecoach” through Dolphin’s Barn, and his friendships with the bus drivers. It is a city that slowly changed before Bang Bang’s failing eyes. Bolger’s writing crafts an entertaining yet poignant lament for Bang Bang’s Dublin, as he describes how Bang Bang’s days were altered by changes like the introduction of electric doors on the buses and the removal of conductors.
Bolger also explores Bang Bang’s early years as Thomas Dudley, in an orphanage in Cabra where games and entertainment were alien and the fear of God and the repercussions of sin were ever present. We realise the power of Bang Bang’s imagination in surviving the difficulties he faced, and come to understand how he became the eccentric character whose tousled hair, vivid eyes and “rusty, trusty key,” were known to so many. Illuminating these tales, Mark O’Brien and Joe Flavin’s lighting design flickers Lord Dudley the Devil’s memories to life, with the dancing light of a cinema screen and the soft glow of a sitting room.
Between Bolger’s insightful and entertaining storytelling, and McGrath’s spirited performance, Bang Bang not only paints a picture of one man’s life, but weaves a history of Dublin, from a Cabra orphanage to the Bohemian Cinema, through the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and 1980s to Christmas at Clonturk House. Bang Bang has a rich story to tell, and it tells it well. Lend an ear to the man who “shoots the buses with a golden key.”
Runs until 23 December 2017 | Image: Sean Laoide-Kemp