Writer: Maeve Binchy
Adaptor: Shay Linehan
Director: Peter Sheridan
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
The year 2000 is looming. Noel and Stella have a bit of a fling, in a tent, at a music festival. And then they go their separate ways. At least, that’s what Noel thinks, until he unexpectedly gets a call from a social worker telling him that Stella is in hospital, about to give birth, but also dying from cancer.
Noel’s not in great shape. Socially awkward and struggling with alcoholism, he’s nobody’s idea of a good catch, a self-confessed bar-stool dreamer. But Stella’s wanting to see him so he reluctantly makes the trip to the hospital where she drops a total bombshell – this baby girl is his and she wants him to take her on.
Life as a single father in the early 20thcentury is explored through this adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s 2010 novel, as Noel undertakes to do “the one parent thing before it was a thing”. With a social worker who’s intent on setting baby Frankie up in a foster home with a well-off family, Noel’s determination and resolve to do the best by his daughter is endlessly tested. There are times when he slips off the wagon, there’s a trip to A&E after a plummet from the nappy changing table – but there’s also a whole host of friends and family on the rota who make it possible for Noel to work, attend AA meetings and still get an occasional hour of sleep.
Minding Frankie is a fairly hum-drum tale, limited in drama and, being an adaptation of a novel, requiring a fair amount of narration, delivered directly to the audience by Noel and social worker Moira. The two actors (Steve Blount and Clare Barrett) play a whole host of other characters throughout, often bringing a bit of comedy to them. Barrett has good comic delivery and her brief character sketches create a nice balance to the overall seriousness of the play. Blount’s are less successful and tend to be much less memorable – apart from his Italian waiter which is a rather unsophisticated and clumsy caricature.
Set in Dublin, the play offers a very Irish take on family and community. A sense of religious belief runs through the story, although it’s never suggested that this is the context of Stella’s decision to keep the baby, or Noel’s acceptance to raise her. It’s more about doing the right thing, the human thing – and when the ‘baby-sitting mafia’ take control, Noel holds to the old adage that it ‘takes a village to raise a child’.
Blount and Barrett deliver performances that keep your attention, despite the lack of depth to the story. The script is fairly unimaginative. There are a number of dramatic reveals that don’t deliver the punch they should – Moira’s dad moving in with his new woman, her revelations about a previous family case she’s worked on, and at least one that would be too much of a spoiler to reveal here.
This two-hander, on a simple, stylised, but rather unattractive baby pink and blue painted set, won’t set the world alight, but it’s a pleasant enough tale that gently celebrates humanity, love and people doing their best to look after one another.
Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed