Review: The Big Fellah, Lyric Hammersmith

Photo by John Haynes

“I like being in the IRA, but if there’s one thing I’d change, it’s all the fucking killing.”

We live in a post 9/11 world where every reference to terrorism and The World Trade Towers is a jolt to our system. We all saw through televisions, the Internet, and camera phones the shocking images in New York when terror truly struck us, but what of England/Ireland and the IRA?

Embedded deep within the hearts of every Irishman is the pain and torment they have endured over the years. Richard Bean’s latest play, The Big Fellah, with Out Of Joint attempts to unearth some of the American Irish influences upon this war spanning 3 decades.

Whilst a subject that can resonate with us all The Big Fellah seems to miss the real power to shock and provoke. Beans play sadly misses out on the post 9/11 terror that sits within us all. It is not that the dealings of the IRA were of little terror but rather it fails to bring the real matter to heart within the play that falls on the side of potentially dramatic.

Set in a flat in the Bronx of New York The Big Fellah presents the dealings of an IRA group as they act as a bridge between America and Ireland assisting in the armament of weaponry and knocking off those who fail to bring about a just cause for their beliefs. Rory played by Ruairi O’Drisceoil scouts out a latest recruit for the group in the form of Michael (David Racardo-Pearce) in which they can use his flat as a safe house. This is overseen by ‘The Big Fellah’, the man you don’t disobey – otherwise called Mr Costello (Finbar Lynch). What Bean portrays is something similar to the gang leaders and wars of The Italian Mafia, where orders given as sending you to Mexico translate to an early knock off from your life.

Max Stafford-Clark the founding artistic director of Out Of Joint tackles Beans text admirably but fails to bring to life the dramatic tension hidden beneath the subtle layers of characters. There are at times humour to engage with that Stafford-Clark has sought to bring to life but beyond this there is little to be taken from The Big Fellah.

Whilst the text is lacking there is creditable performances delivered by O’Drisceoil and Racardo-Pearce as they transgress through the time-span of the play. Equally there is a very much needed laughter found from Fred Ridgeway as Frank the recovering alcoholic and security IRA man through his portrayal of Ireland with his 6 daughters all called Mary (not forgetting his wife – also called Mary).

Yet at the heart of The Big Fellah is the man himself, and Lynch brings a certain quality to the role that offers some potential to Bean’s gang mob tone. Sadly this is short lived in the overall perspective of the show.

I can’t help but to feel that the whole of The Big Fellah was only just scraping a very deep and darker matter that Bean’s text failed to penetrate. Where 9/11 is imprinted on my memory, and the tales of the IRA present somewhere too – The Big Fellah fails to leave anything more than a scratch on my skin, an itch for something more.

The Big Fellah is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 16th October. Booking via their website here.

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