Mac and More – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Harold Pinter and James Hayes

The theatre of the 1950s-1970s is the primary focus of James Hayes’ new one man show Mac and More which builds on Harold Pinter’s short prose piece about the influential actor-manager Anew McMaster and their time together in Ireland. Mixed with his own reminiscences of both men as well as a second half devoted entirely to excerpts from his own career, Hayes’ show is all about the anecdotes that form a biography.

Staged for just two nights at the Jermyn Street Theatre as part of the Footprints Festival, Mac and More begins with a focus on Pinter and McMaster as Hayes recounts the biography of both men before performing a dramatic reading of Pinter’s piece Mac in full. Naturally, it comes alive in Hayes delivery, a string of stories and reflections that skip through time as Pinter frames his story around McMaster’s death and his return to Ireland to find the funeral within which the heady days of touring burst through.

Hayes recreates the voices of both men within the story and the section dramatising a riotous Othello in a closed cinema to a 2000-strong crowd of drunk Irishmen on St Patrick’s Day is especially vivid. But the ‘More’ of the title soon moves beyond Pinter as Hayes speaks affectionately of the first edition he reads from, tracked down to bookshop in Tunbridge Wells and signed by the author. The remainder of the first half includes remembrances of Micheál MacLiammór whose “whole life was steeped in romance” Hayes explains, obscuring his true Merseyside origins, while Hayes shares his own encounters with these titans of Irish repertory theatre.

The second half is a little less structured as Hayes chooses an unconnected series of sketches from his own memoir from which he reads directly. Many of these are very entertaining including his part time jobs as a security guard and in a cosmetics factory, good times in the Barrow-in-Furness and Stoke repertory companies doing 20 plays a year and the many hairy moments on stage and off as an actor dries during Toad of Toad Hall, and Laurence Olivier scares auditionees. Hayes remembers running from a curtain call in the Lyttleton to his performance in the National Theatre’s anniversary celebration in the Olivier in under 5 minutes nodding to Maggie Smith on the way.

But Mac and More does need more shape, not least to give the audience a sense of direction and an overarching point or purpose that brings Hayes’ reminiscences together. The focus on Pinter and McMaster is a good starting point and the show could compare careers or spread readings of Mac throughout the piece from which Hayes could spin-off into his own reflections in between. Mac and More is about a life in performance, of the glory days of repertory theatre and the individuals that make its history so colourful. For Hayes it is McMaster’s words that linger – “The only thing that matters is that I am playing”.

Reviewed on 5 June 2021

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