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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Big Fellah

This guy Faust sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 20 years of glory. What you're doing here, son, is Faust in reverse. Selling your soul for a lifetime of pain. — Costello
The Big Fellah
Finbar Lynch as David Costello (Photo: John Haynes)
It is interesting isn't it how Richard Bean can write excellent comic material and at the same time make us seriously think about the politics of a situation. He did it very successfully with England People Very Nice and surely must have offended some of the Irish population with his portrayal of the Irish families moving into the East End of London with their pig!

In The Big Fellah Bean examines the politics and recent history of the Irish Republican movement through the eyes of a New Yorker who supports the cause over three decades. Bean's plays are always hugely enjoyable for his incisive writing and he is not afraid to tackle subjects that other playwright shy away from.

To a tape of Irish folk music we first meet Finbar Lynch as the eponymous Big Fellah, David Costello, an organiser and major fund raiser for the Irish republicans in America. Setting the scene he is delivering a speech to supporters at a St Patrick's Day dinner in 1972 encouraging them to donate to the cause. Through the interconnected lives of Mr Costello, Ruari (Rory Keenan) a fugitive from British justice who will become a test legal case in the United States and Bronx resident Michael Doyle (David Ricardo-Pearce), we will learn about the major events in Anglo-Irish history, the Troubles in Northern Ireland as they impact on the lives of these men.

This is not a romantic or sentimental view of the Irish Republican movement. As well as referring to the major political events— the massacres and the bombings— Bean exposes the complexity of the treachery, suspicion and murders that take place in the name of Irish nationalism determined to rid Ireland of British occupation. Costello talks about celebrating the massacre that was Bloody Sunday because it will polarise opinion and bring more support to the cause. The legal case Ruari is involved in is whether under American law, an Irishman who kills a British soldier is politically motivated, a freedom fighter against an invading army, or a criminal. Ruari maintains he was the driver not the man who shot the soldier and the court case takes many years.

Claire Rafferty plays Elizabeth Ryan, a girl staying in the safe house in New York, and who Michael falls in love with. When Costello states that no-one can remember the names of the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison Belfast who died after 27 year old Bobby Sands in 1981, Elizabeth lists off every one of the nine who followed. This scene looks at the misogyny of the Irish movement. The other female interest is Stephanie Street as Karelma, a Puerto Rican New Yorker who, as a journalist, keeps Ruari in the news.

Bean keeps us smiling with a rif about how most of the players detest Irish music and the guitar hangs on the wall of Michael's apartment rather than being played, something that visitor from Northern Ireland, the ruthless and violent Frank McArdle finds offensive in a brilliant cameo from Fred Ridgeway.

Tim Shortall's design is the inside of the Bronx apartment but with the kitchen units painted an emerald green symbolic of the Irish cause. Max Stafford-Clark directs for Out of Joint with his usual flair making these complex events easy to follow. Performances are strong and believable with Finbar Lynch giving us the most complex and satisfying interpretation of his character.

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The Big Fellah
Written by Richard Bean
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Starring: Finbar Lynch
With: Rory Keenan, Youssef Kerkour, Finbar Lynch, Claire Rafferty, David Ricardo-Pearce, Fred Ridgeway, Stephanie Street
Design: Tim Shortall
Lighting: Jason Taylor
Sound: Nick Manning
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0871 2211729
Booking at The Lyric Hammersmith to 16th October 2010 then
Oxford Playhouse 19th - 23rd October 2010 Tel: 01865 305305
Southampton Nuffield Theatre 26th - 30th October 2010. Tel: 023 8067 1771
York Theatre Royal 2nd - 6th November 2010 Tel: 01904 623568
Birmingham Rep 10th - 13th November 2010 Tel: 0121 236 4455 .
A joint production from Out of Joint and the Lyric Hammersmith
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th September 2010 performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, King Street, London W6 0QL (Tube: Hammersmith)

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