Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
“Spend your life in show-business and you become a philosopher,” says
Teddy, the spiv-like manager and touring partner of The Fantastic
Francis Hardy in the third of four monologues that make up Brian
Friel's haunting dramatic meditation on the the unreliable powers of an
inconsistent muse, and how those powers can trap their carrier in their
own self-destructive mythology.
Before Teddy met Frank, his world was occupied by bagpipe-playing
whippets and other end-of-the-pier acts. Once their paths crossed, it
was an endless itinerary of one-night stands in isolated towns and
villages in Scotland and Wales where miracles sometimes happened. Like
an ageing rock band, Frank, Teddy and Frank's wife Grace embark on a
never-ending tour of backwoods venues struggling to recapture the
alchemical spark that once made Frank great in-between burying himself
in booze and antagonising strangers and intimates.
It is Frank who frames the play with the first and last of the play's
quartet of conflicting confessionals. A dynamic Sean O'Callaghan
invests Frank with shabby vulnerability in John Dove's poignant and
powerful production. Possessed by a mercurial restlessness, O'Callaghan
is never still for a second as he whirls about Michael Taylor's church
hall set, declaiming Frank's version of his peaceful downfall during
his return to Ireland.
Once Niamh McCann's Grace tells all from her London bedsit, the
contradictions of Frank's account become plain as she unravels her own
tragedy. After the interval, Patrick Driver's Teddy is almost light
relief in his bluff description of events. It's significant that the
manager is the only survivor in this mighty metaphor for art, and the
life and death that fuel it.
The Herald, January 20th 2014