The Big Fellow – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Declan Gorman

Director: Declan Gorman

Reviewer: Saoirse Anton

“I shall write it now that Michael Collins was a human being.”

Based on Frank O’Connor’s biography of Michael Collins, The Big Fellow is a mischievous and insightful production that tells the story of Michael Collins, not as a historical figure, but as a man.

Gorman’s writing is balanced and entertaining, manipulating its theatrical medium with skill and dexterity. He manages to make a well worn story that one might think has been revised to death for history classes in school into an engaging play that interrogates ideas of storytelling and biography. As Collins (played by Cillian O’Gairbhi) interrupts O’Connor (played by Gerard Adlum), accusing him of twisting his story and insulting him, or asking him to change some of what he has written, the audience is invited to interrogate the veracity of the tale in front of them and to question stories of the past and their origins. As the characters switch between anecdotes and discuss events retrospectively, a picture of Collins is gradually built up, while the audience is prompted to question this image.

Both Adlum and O’Gairbhi deliver impressive performances, capturing the fictional and factual in each character with a sustained energy. Adlum, however, deserves particular mention for his nimble switching of characters and his sharp imitations of historical figures. From his tip-toe tall De Valera, to his gurning Cathal Brugha, Adlum had the audience in stitches and maintained an energetic pace throughout the production. There were moments in which the performances lacked a little finesse, with some unpolished stage combat moves and awkward movement of props and set pieces, but overall both actors produced interesting and accomplished performances.

Colin Blakey’s sound design was also notable. The interludes in which snippets of extra historical information were included, and indeed the effects building the background to scenes such as Bloody Sunday and the 1921/2 Dáil treaty debates, blended almost seamlessly with Gorman’s script. As should be the case, the sound design never overpowered, nor was overpowered by the live action on stage.

The Big Fellow is a refreshing production that presents a sharp interrogation of biography and storytelling, and an entertaining and un-sentimental account of the eventful life of Michael Collins.

Runs until May 7th | Image: courtesy of Smock Alley

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