The Tailor and the Ansty
Eric Cross, adapted for the stage by P.J. O'Connor
New Theatre Dublin production
The Old Red Lion Theatre
The tailor is Timothy Buckley and Ansty his wife Anastasia, a real-life couple who lived in West Cork, where Buckley gained a great reputation as a story-teller in the Irish tradition, drawing locals and visitors to their cottage near Gougane Barra to hear him nightly. Eric Cross, fictionalising and romanticising them a little perhaps, put them into a book, published in London in 1942, a book which was soon banned by the Irish Senate - there was a four day debate about it! - as indecent and obscene. Three priests went to Gougane Barra to ensure that Buckley personally burned the copy that Cross had given him.
All this comes into O'Connor's adaptation, along with a plentiful helping of the tailor's home-spun wisdom and humorous stories, helping to give them a dramatic framework. The senate called the book a 'collection of smut' and Buckley was described as preoccupied with sex, something the eighty-year old story-teller (at least in this play) doesn't deny. Sitting in bed eating a boiled egg for breakfast he starts the day telling his wife of a neighbour who asked if an animal on the road was a bull or a cow, a married woman too. 'Can't have been much of a marriage,' says Ansty, who's also reached eighty. To be sure, the jokes are a bit earthy, but fortunately the censorship was lifted two decades after publication and this play put on at the Abbey in Dublin in 1967. It has taken a long time to reach London, but now has its UK premier in a production by the New Theatre Dublin that opened in the Buckley's home town in 2005 and has already toured Ireland
There have been accusations that the book paints locals as ignorant simpletons but these are stories originally told for just those locals and this adaptation and Nuala Hayes' direction ensure that we laugh with the tailor and his wife not at them. Ronan Wilmot gives a captivating performance as Buckley, making him a man full of loveable blarney who delightfully jiggles his toes when reaching the climax of a story. Hayes is excellent support as Ansty, arguing and interrupting - or simply talking over him, helping to build a picture of their domesticity so that our interest is held as much by their relationship as by the stories he tells. It's a gentle helping of Oirishness but played with an honesty that gives life to what could have been a pair of stage stereotypes.
At the Old Red Lion until 3rd August 2008
Reviewer: Howard Loxton