Writer: Abbie Spallen
Director: Michael Duke
Reviewer: Caitriona M. Reilly
If the audience were to take one thing from Tinderbox’s and The MAC’s new production, Lally the Scut, it would be that playwright Abbie Spallen is pissed off. Spallen’s play is a spiteful critique of “post”-conflict/Troubles Northern Ireland and the different caricatures who enable grief and trauma.
As a child, Lally (Roisin Gallagher) was left abandoned down a hole. In a cruel twist-of-fate, Lally’s own child has become stuck down a well. Spallen’s play follows pregnant Lally’s desperate attempts to rescue her child from the hole while dealing with the ineptness of the local townspeople and media.
There are twelve characters played by a host of local actors. Though Spallen’s play focuses on Nationalist/Republican communities, the characters represent a wide demographic of Northern Irish caricatures. There’s Lally’s crazed mother-in-law, Ellen (Carol Moore); the dimwit husband, Francis (Michael Condron); the concerned documentarian, Owen (Frank McCusker); the local baker/council representative, Bun McTasney (Alan McKee); and of course the Priest (Tony Flynn).
It is an interesting cast although the success of each actor’s performance varied. Given this is the first week of performances there may have been some initial cast nerves. At times Gallagher was quite stagnant in her performance as Lally. Although her character may be somewhat defeatist towards the end of the play, Gallagher’s performance became tired. Lally is a ballsy, in-yer-face character and Gallagher did not bring enough energy to the part.
There were successful performances from Maria Connolly (Rahab – Lally’s mother) and Vincent Higgins (Daly the Male). Connolly’s performance was terrifically spunky. Her punchlines were executed perfectly as she paraded around the stage with a cocky snarl. Higgins had a momentary slip-up in his puppet routine, but his later monologue was perfectly phrased with crescendos and contempt. Daly the Male, is a misogynist, middle-class moron, and Higgins captured the idiocy of such a character.
One sadistic scene takes place between Lally and the perverted, paranoid Priest. Flynn portrays the Priest’s manic ramblings, capturing the quick rhythm of Spallen’s sharp dialogue. As blood soils his hands, Flynn becomes satanic towards the end of the scene. One could not help but recoil. The play does not make for easy viewing.
The set by Ciaran Bagnall is a sprawling, purgatorial space where characters enter and exit from the depths of hell (or from further on down the hill). The telephone poles could symbolise the crosses of Calvary. The set is dirty and desolate, apt for such a play. However, Michael Duke is his direction, does not always utilise such a space to the advantage of the performers. Rather than a fluidity of movement, scenes become fixed to one area of the stage. Also, there are times when a tableaux from a previous scene remains onstage while another scene takes place. This clogs up the set and the transitions to another scene are awkward as the large ensemble exits the stage.
Despite some minor grievances, Lally the Scut is a thoroughly enjoyable show. Really the success of the show is due to Spallen’s dark humour and malevolence. The play is a satirical critique on present-day Northern Ireland. It highlights the stagnant nature of society and people who are stuck in their ways. The play is undoubtedly depressing and harrowing at times. There is venom is Spallen’s writing and this will of course provoke many audiences. The audience at Lally the Scut become the collective townspeople. Spallen seemingly asks us to look at ourselves while spitting at us in disgust.
Lally the Scut is offensive. But still you laugh.
Photo courtesy of The MAC.Runs until 2nd May 2015 (Post Show Talk: Thursday 23rd April)