Friday 28 October 2016


Here we go again. It's only been four years since the great Brian Dennehy turned in a towering performance as the fearsome Bull McCabe on the Olympia stage. Four years, and already, we're back in Flanagan's pub. We must have hit a milestone.

Ah yes, John B Keane's The Field turns 50 this year, and so it is that the folks over at the Gaiety have decided to reassemble the beer taps and dust off that notorious, tree-trunk staff.

This time, it's down to playwright Michael Harding to don the paddy cap. How does he get on? Well, as it turns out, the biggest drawback with this 50th anniversary production of Keane's classic is that producers have only gone and hired the wrong 'actor' in the lead role.

The Bull McCabe is supposed to be frightening. There's a reason his neighbours and family cower whenever he and his son, Tadhg, make an entrance.

The man is a tyrant and a monster. In Harding's hands, however, the Bull just puffs his chest and mumbles a lot. Honestly, there are times when the Bird O'Donnell - the local whiskey hound - exhibits more menace.


What we have here is a bizarre yet believable tragedy, wrapped up in a two-hour squabble over the 'rightful ownership' of a piece of land.

Basically, Maggie Butler is putting her field up for auction, and the Bull - a cattle farmer whose cows have nurtured the land for some years now - reckons it's his for the taking.

She wants eight hundred quid; the Bull is willing to part with two hundred. An outside buyer from the big shmoke will wish he'd never shown interest.

In a bid to frighten off his opponent, the Bull and his son take matters into their own hands, coercing the townsfolk into keeping their lips sealed. But a scare is one thing; murder is another.

Designer Liam Doona's naturalistic set is to be commended and director Padraic McIntyre does well to create a tense and atmospheric build-up.

But Keane's powerful script requires sufficient talent in order to truly flourish. An unconvincing Harding struggles.

It's up to Ian Lloyd Anderson (Tadhg), then, to pile on the intimidation. He, too, looks lost. Fiona Bell (Maimie Flanagan) gives a masterclass in exasperation as the auctioneer/publican's wife, and Mark O'Regan makes for a suitably comical Bird. But the tone is all over the place.

The famous roaring Bishop monologue grates; the good cop / bad cop interrogation scene feels drawn out, and what the heck is up with that final scene?

Indeed, this may be the first version of The Field to bow out on a whimper.

Running until May 30 HHHII


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