Becoming Maggie – The New Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Emma Devlin

Writer: Donagh Humphreys

Director: Andy Crook

Donagh Humphreys’ second offering (both in terms of full-length play, and at the New Theatre) is an absolute delight. At heart Beginning Maggie is a simple story that follows Gen (Eva-Jane Gaffney), Brendán (Jed Murray), and Shane (Fiach Kunz) as they navigate their relationships while preparing an am-dram performance of John B. Keane’s “Big Maggie”. But it is simplicity done to perfection.

The writing is natural and uproariously funny, Humphreys has captured some very distinct and believable characters and set them against each other in scenes that feel plucked out of real life. The barbs that Gaffney and Murray throw back and forth are acerbic and hilarious and deeply real. In the post-reading bedroom scene, it is as if every word from Gaffney’s mouth is drowning in venom, just one in a queue of frustrated, fed-up utterances that stretch back far into their shared past. The writing is spot on and the performance is stellar – Gaffney is a mirror to anyone who has ever allowed themselves to fall so far into disdain for their partner that even a five minute conversation is too long by at least four and a half minutes.

Murray is artful as Brendán; Humphreys’ script paints an insufferable business and life coach cum am-dram director, but Murray’s performance takes it to another level. He oozes patronising panache to the extent that he is almost likeable even in this unlikeable role. His comic timing and physical humour are a joy to watch.

Where the audience can feel simmering resentment and the death of love between Gaffney and Murray, Kunz brings an altogether different flavour to the show. The chemistry between Kunz and Gaffney feels sweet and sincere as they come to know each other, and the beginning of their story is a beautiful vignette of shy and awkward mutual interest turning into something more. The development of that relationship is pleasantly unexpected but similarly believable in its own right.

The play is a triple threat of writing, acting, and directing. Humphreys has written a script that explores three distinct and concrete characters who are nuanced and interesting and who play out interactions that feel ripped from reality. Murray, Gaffney, and Kunz bring their A-game; they fully embody their characters and bounce off each other comfortably and cleverly. Andy Crook directs superbly; the use of space, the physicality of the performances, the pacing – it all comes together to create a truly wonderful show. Matt McGowan’s lighting choices are well thought out and differentiate the scenes and moods admirably. The set design from Martin Cahill is neat and makes great use of the small stage.

Becoming Maggie begins and ends with Gaffney speaking directly to the audience as Gen, her conversational tone taking the crowd in and giving them an insight into how she views herself and her husband. Though the monologues differ in emotion, as can be expected given all that has happened between them, the tone and intimacy are mirrored and it feels like a perfect bookending of the piece. In Humphreys’ own words “This play serves as a tribute to amateur theatre and a homage to the enduring legacy of John B.Keane”, and a fitting homage it is as Humphreys has managed to capture some extremely real moments in this piece, much as Keane was lauded for doing in his work. Not to be missed.

Runs until 26th August 2023.

The Review's Hub Score

Terrifically triumphant tribute

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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