Not only did Ronan Wilmot re-energise the famous first play in English by Brendan Behan, The Quare Fellow but he did it in a remarkable space – The New Theatre in Temple Bar. Behan’s work was premiered in The Pike Theatre, a 50 seat venue in 1954 and this fine production goes on in a 66 seat space. Yes, it is hot and claustrophobic but it suited the prison play that had originally a cast of 28 at least and now the cast of 13 keep true to the spirit of a Mountjoy Prison in the 1950’s when the “quare fellow” is about to be hanged.
Wilmot’s direction is sharp and keeps a sense of history about a play that time has if not forgotten, it has passed it by. However, a quality cast burn with the zeal for the work. Luke Hayden is excellent as the cynical warden, Regan. Michael Shanley is equally fine as the institutionalised old lag Dunlavin and PJBrady is a treat as Neighbour.
I liked the weasel-wordiness of Mick Fitzgerald’s Governor. Ben Reynolds was competent as Silvertop the reprieved killer and Cormac McDonagh as Prisoner B was impressive (I remembered him from Red Kettle’s Riddley Walker.
This production impressed me much more than the Abbey’s Plough and the Stars.
Going down Temple Bar I met costumed actors from a free Shakespeare play – The Comedy of Errors – as they banged a drum and gathered up an audience to follow them to Smock Alley. I was almost tempted to join them but would have missed the excellence of The Quare Fellow.