Writer: Joe O’Byrne
Director: Ian Curley
Reviewer: Brian Gorman
Bolton-based Actor/writer Joe O’Byrne’s one man play, ‘I’m Frank Morgan’, was written a decade ago, and is the first in the ongoing series of plays located on the fictional northern England estate of Paradise Heights.
You may have seen the subsequent works such as ‘Rank’, ‘The Bench’, or his most recent ’Strawberry Jack’, but here we have something completely unexpected. The excellent short film version of ‘I’m Frank Morgan’ (directed by Paul Murphy) told the riveting story of a cold-bloodied Irish loan shark operating with ruthless amoral efficiency before being stung to the core by the results of his actions against a family in debt.
Frank Morgan is a terrifying creation; a man without pity or remorse, yet O’Byrne infuses him with just enough of a hint of humanity that one simply can’t help falling for his crocodile charm. O’Byrne has said that this updated (in terms of character and tone, yet retaining the exact same dialogue as the original play) version would illuminate a side of Frank never seen before, and his proven track record for hard-hitting, ultra realistic, yet constantly surprising writing meant the audience would be in for a shock. And shocked they were!
Director Ian Curley has turned the character inside out and delivered the flip side of the Paradise Heights hard man. O’Byrne delivers a low key, mesmeric, and utterly disturbing performance that contrasts magnificently with his earlier, and well-established, hard-nosed portrayal. This is a shadow of a man, mumbling and stuttering his way through a lifetime of rage, sorrow and soul-destroying guilt in around an hour of real time. It’s a brave brave move on the part of O’Byrne the writer, and O’Byrne the actor shows us just how skilled a performer he is – taking the exact same character he’s played a hundred times before and presenting the same man gutted and skinned to the bone.
It has to be said that this production was not an easy one to sit through; this was an evening that wore its audience down gradually and without pity. One could ask should we have been shown a few more flashes of the old Frank? Would a more varied pace have helped? Joe O’Byrne does not compromise, and here we had a great talent stretching the boundaries; probing his audience, testing his own performance skills, and bravely gnawing at the patience of his audience.
One can imagine this parallel universe version of Frank Morgan working well as a short film, where O’Byrne’s screwed-up creation could frighten the living daylights out of us in extreme close-up. As a live performance there seemed too much physical space, and one felt the need to peer more closely into those haunted eyes. In real life any sane person would stay a million miles away from the likes of Mr Frank Morgan, but in artistic terms we’d like to be nose-to-nose; Frank should be on the screen. Trapped in a bottle like a poisonous spider. Ironically, for so huge a creation less is increasingly more. Maybe O’Byrne and Curley have fashioned a whole new beast here – Homeopathic Hell?
Reviewed on 14th September