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The Theatreguide.London Review

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 procreative purposes.

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.

The 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.

Meanwhile Fra's 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.

And what's 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.

The 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, consistant tone  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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  On McQuillan's Hill - Finborough Theatre 2020