Gates of Gold

Frank McGuinness

Charm Offensive

Finborough Theatre

(2004)

Review by Philip Fisher

Director Gavin McAlinden has achieved something of a coup by staging the British premiere of a Frank McGuinness' play at the Finborough Theatre. Such events might more commonly be viewed at the National or the RSC.

Gates of Gold is set in the Southern Irish home of thespians, Gabriel and Conrad. They are based on actor, designer and playwright Micheál Mac Liammóir and his partner, director Hilton Edwards, co-founders of Dublin's Gate Theatre. Gabriel is close to death and the play addresses his life, more as memoirs than biography.

The world premiere a couple of years ago, inevitably at The Gate, featured Alan Howard and Richard Johnson as Gabriel and Conrad respectively.

In this production, William Gaunt makes Gabriel vulnerable but also brave in his last painful days, while John Bennett's Conrad has to contemplate a new kind of life either alone or in different company.

The couple had lived an openly gay life when it was illegal to do so and are still utterly devoted, despite a mutual history of misadventures with taxi drivers.

Into their lives come three strange outsiders. Nose-ringed nurse, Alma, played by Aoife McMahon, has her own problems that sometimes seem to dwarf those of her patient, but comes to love him. The other pair, his sister and her son, are the kind of relations that no one needs in times of stress: selfish, greedy and in need of love, even at the expense of the suffering.

The actors in the three key roles all impress, especially Gaunt as the larger than life Gabriel, and there is a surprisingly lavish set designed by Vicky Fifield. In a very small space, it manages combines living room, bedroom and dressing room. It includes memorable touches such as golden cherubs and a theatrical dressing table, complete with light bulbs.

Gates of Gold gives an insight into theatrical life but far more into two eccentric men and their love that literally dared not speak its name. That is its strength, while the odd relations seemingly add little.