The Big Fellah

Richard Bean
Out of Joint and the Lyric Hammersmith
The Corn Exchange, Newbury, and touring
(2010)

Production graphic

With the recent shocking revelations about the atrocities of 'Bloody Sunday' Richard Bean's intriguing new play, The Big Fellah, reveals the strong Irish American connection with the IRA starting in the early 1970s up until the Twin Towers' destruction in 9/11.

The world class Out of Joint Company together with The Lyric Hammersmith premiered this dark, witty, and shocking play to start the exciting autumn programme at the Corn Exchange.

Set in a brownstone apartment in The Bronx (beautifully designed by Tim Shortall), Fireman Michael Doyle (David Ricardo-Pearce) is resolute to return to his Irish heritage by joining the IRA and providing a 'safe house' for fugitives.

Ex-jockey Ruairi O'Drisceoil (Rory Keenan) has been busted out of the 'Kesh' and has laid low in New York for the past six months and is looking for a safe house to wait in before he is smuggled into Canada.

David Costello is the Big Fellah, powerful and uncompromising, a charismatic performance from Finbar Lynch. He brings orders from Dublin that Ruairi should turn himself in and let the American courts decide whether an Irishman who kills a British soldier is politically motivated or a criminal - a risky strategy. He insists that if Michael is going to join the IRA it will, "mess up his life forever". Ironically Michael reveals that his parent's were actually Protestant.

The play moves forward to 1981 where Ruairi meets Karelma (Stephanie Street) in an Art Gallery and she offers to help him gain his naturalization papers through a lawyer friend. Another detainee in the safe house is Elizabeth Ryan, delightfully played by Claire Rafferty, who becomes Michael's lover.

However someone is leaking information to the FBI and the suspicion falls on Elizabeth. Corrupt policeman Tom Billy Coyle (Youssef Kerkour) arrives to send her to Mexico, a euphemism for her being murdered. As Ruairi says, "I like being in the IRA but if there's one think I'd change it's all the f***ing killing".

Seven years later the recovering alcoholic Frank McArdle, powerfully portrayed by Fred Ridgeway, arrives in the safe house. He is a member of the IRA Council and a ruthless murderer. There are more betrayals and disillusionments with one hundred and fifty tons of arms from Libya being discovered by the authorities. But who is the 'tout' working for the FBI? I will not reveal the dénouement, but the ending is both surprising and poignant.

Deftly directed by Max Stafford-Clark with first-rate performances from all the cast, this play is highly recommended.

Touring to Royal and Derngate, Northampton (Tues 7th - Sat 11th Sept.); Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (Tues 14th - Sat 18th Sept.); Lyric Hammersmith (Tues 21st Sept - Sat 16th Oct.); Oxford Playhouse (Tues 19th - Sat 23rd Oct.); Nuffield Theatre, Southampton (Tues 26th - Sat 30th Oct.); York Theatre Royal (Tues 2nd - Sat 6th Nov.) and Birmingham Rep (Wed 10th - Sat 13th Nov.)

Philip Fisher reviewed "The Big Fellah" at the Lyric, Hammersmith. It was also reviewed (with a slightly different cast) by Peter Lathan in Newcastle.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp