Trad

Mark Doherty
Bush Theatre
(2006)

Production photo

It's a brave writer who tackles a play where all of the characters are over a hundred years old. Ordinarily this would be the kiss of death for any dramatic work. However, Mark Doherty (stand-up comedian, actor and writer) manages to pull off a tragicomedy through his accessible characters, lyrical dialogue and involving subject matter.

The message of is play is best summed up by the Son's (aka Thomas) explosive speech when he finally snaps at his demanding Da: "Is that what tradition is? Everyone standing still and facing backwards?"

The play, which premiered in 2004 at the Galway Arts Festival and won a Fringe First in the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, is written in the context of a changing Ireland and what better way to explore this theme than through the eyes of a centenarian and his even older father, who are on a quest to track down their 70 year old son and grandson, fathered as a result of a one night stand experienced by the Son.

Ireland used to be an isolated island, positioned as it is on the far west of Europe. But new laws and easier communication systems have made it much more multicultural and not everyone has kept pace with - or accepted - the changes. By the end of the play, Da finally concedes he has come to the end of his journey, telling his mere slip-of-a-lad son that he's not going to change things - that job belongs to his son. It's an ultimately uplifting message.

The director, Mikel Murfi, made good use of the space in the Bush and the sparse set (which consisted of two hollow boxes on some green grass and a hurley stick) was flexible enough to suggest the various landscapes that would be encountered on a journey through the Irish countryside. Jim Doherty's score - played by on-stage violinists Tony Byrne and Malachy Bourke - gave the whole proceedings the cinematic feel of a road-movie.

Da and the Son, played respectively by Frankie McCafferty and Peter Gowen, were a terrific duo. It's a daunting task to play someone considerably older, but to have to play a centenarian and someone notionally 120 years old with gusto is something else. McCafferty had a slightly easier job as the alert, truculent and feisty Da, who could still run rings around his offspring. He played his role of professional Irishman to the hilt - displaying a deep mistrust of all things foreign with special bile reserved for the English. Unashamedly badly behaved, he had an unusual set of moral values: respect for the clergy was strictly observed, though it was okay habitually to steal from foreigners. McCafferty made excellent use of his facial expressions to convey the emotions bubbling beneath the surface, which, because of the intimate nature of the Bush, we were all able to catch.

Peter Gowen's role as the character that was being torn between tradition and progress was a more introverted one but he could certainly wring emotion from both himself and the audience at the end of the piece, when he realised his whole life was about to change. David Pearse performed two characters, Old Sal and Father Rice. He gave a vivid performance as the recognisable town busy-body, though his portrayal of the local priest was a little similar in tone and manner.

Trad could have been set at almost any time during the last hundred years in Ireland. However Doherty brings it up to date by mentioning such things as the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2002. In many ways, the situation is far from realistic, but taken as a whole, it makes perfect dramatic sense. Trad is a thoughtful, charming, polished piece of work.

Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart