As with last year's England People Very Nice
, Richard Bean once again approaches a controversial (if not quite as current) subject with dark humour. The Big Fellah
is about the IRA and specifically the Americans who happily raised funds for them for decades. The action spans from 1972, when Bloody Sunday inspires New York firefighter Michael Doyle to offer his apartment as an IRA safe house; to 9/11, which finally put the nail in the coffin of wealthy New Yorkers being able to self-justify donations to a terrorist group. In the years in between, the somewhat dim-witted Doyle's (David Ricardo-Pearce) apartment plays host to a number of dodgy characters, from Elizabeth (Claire Rafferty) with whom he has an affair, to the violently insane Frank (Fred Ridgeway,) all of this orchestrated by the titular Big Fellah, Finbar Lynch's Costello.
Max Stafford-Clark's production is clear and has a nice energy to it, and the performances are all good. Some of the accents aren't quite there but I particularly liked how Ruairi O'Drisceoil's Rory (who spends most of the three decades in the safe house, thanks to a neverending trial that's made him a minor celebrity) starts with a broad Irish accent in 1972, and has increasing hints of New York encroaching by the late '90s. Elsewhere, the dorkishly cute Ricardo-Pearce has a very brief
This being a completely serious and respectable blog (pffft!) I won't comment on whether this has any relevance to the show's title.
Bean's writing is successful both in the comedy and in making you think about the subject matter, but the play's very format, which sees jumps of nearly a decade between scenes, sometimes made it difficult to properly engage in what was happening. I enjoyed the show, but felt like there was something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Not a waste of time by any means though.The Big Fellah
by Richard Bean is booking until the 16th of October at the Lyric Hammersmith; then continuing on tour to Oxford, Southampton, York and Birmingham.