On McQuillan's Hill
Finborough Theatre February 2020
A note in the programme
tells us that Joseph Crilly's play caused something of a stir in
Ireland twenty years ago with its jaundiced view of some of the myths
by which the Irish like to define themselves.
We're talking about
comforting fictions like that the Irish are all colourful but
harmless alcoholics, village Ireland is a place of pastoral
innocence, the IRA was made up of valiant freedom fighters, and all
sex and romance in Ireland is pure, conventional and strictly for
The question facing a
revival of On McQuillan's
Hill is whether the play can be as provocative or involving out of
the time and place in which it was written. And, judging from this
rather sluggish and shapeless production, the answer is negative.
play introduces us to several related characters and stories. Minor
IRA figure Fra Maline is newly out of prison looking for whoever it
was who shopped him. A reunion with old drinking buddy Dessie
suggests there may have been something more intimate than mere
friendship between them.
long-banished sister Loretta
also comes home, having decided to buy the decrepid village hall and
convert it to a hotel, to be refurbished by her old boyfriend Ray.
And Fra's daughter Theresa knows there are some secrets about her
past and wants answers.
The essentially plotless
first act of
Crilly's play is taken up by introducing these characters and their
back stories. And then the essentially plotless second act consists
of telling us that most of what we were told in Act One was untrue,
with characters either not knowing all the facts, misinterpreting
what they knew, keeping secrets or just lying.
The new sets of
revelations are not especially shocking, though they do resolve most
of the mysteries. But with the partial exception of Theresa, who does
learn what she wanted to know, nobody is appreciably better off,
worse off or, indeed, particularly affected by the news.
more, we don't particularly care. Again with the partial exception of
Theresa, who appears to be the only wholly innocent victim among
them, none of the characters is presented as attractive, admirable or
well-meaning enough to inspire much sympathy or even interest.
fault does not lie with a hard-working cast led by Johnny Vivash as
Fra, Gina Costigan as Loretta and Julie Maguire as Theresa. Some of
it must belong to director Jonathan Harden, who is unable to draw us
into the characters or story, or to give the play any shape, rhythm,
or forward momentum.
But it is probably just that there is less to the play than there may have seemed to Irish audiences in 2000.
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Review - On McQuillan's Hill - Finborough Theatre 2020