Laughs lift a cause for concern

Gun law: Finbar Lynch is The Big Fellah among New York's Irish community at Birmingham Rep

The Big Fellah

Birmingham Rep

****

BIRMINGHAM is the last leg of this co – production between Out of Joint Theatre Company and The lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Somehow, given the large Irish community in the second city, this seems a fitting place to end the tour.

Richard Bean's new play takes a close, hard look at the influence and power of the IRA over Irish Americans.

Set over three decades between 1972 and 2001 in New York, it looks at how this notorious and violent organisation enrols willing recruits on the other side of the pond – all in the name of heritage.

One particular ‘foot soldier' is Michael Doyle (David Ricrado – Pearce). Just 20 at the start of the play but ripe for enrolment and ready to go wherever he is told in the name of loyalty and ‘the cause'.

His mentor, a man seemingly several places higher up the IRA line of command, is David Costello (Finbar Lynch) - The Big Fellah of the title.

Costello is himself, as he freely admits, just another foot soldier, but more of a general than the cannon fodder he controls and deploys.. Immaculate in his designer coat, slicked back hair and shiny shoes, he is the head honcho and everyone knows it. Not least himself.

Violence, given the subject matter, is never far away. There are genuine moments of nastiness here.

There is, it seems, honour amongst thieves and when one over zealous ‘soldier' goes too far (ever wondered what happened to Shergar?), his resulting torture provides real tension. It's also very funny at times, though – both in the writing and the delivery. ‘The craic' is never abandoned and Bean succeeds in getting the right balance of light and shade throughout.

Casting, it is said, is 80 per cent of a play's success. Director, Max Stafford –Clark has chosen well here with a strong ensemble cast. Ironically, ‘The Big Fellah' is played by the shortest actor on stage but what Finbar Lynch lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in a measured, powerful portrayal of a man holding all the strings.

Sometimes an Actor actually scares you a little - Jo Pesci springs to mind - and Lynch certainly has that power. ‘ Big', without doubt.

Rory Keenan gets a lot of funny lines as Ruairi O'Drisceoil - an immigrant from Ireland who begins to question the hard liners around him.

Youssef Kerkour plays Tom Billy Coyle – An Irish American Cop who, it is fair to say relies on good old bigoted attitudes to justify his blind allegiance.

There's not many people he actually likes - Jewish people, homosexuals, the deaf – no one is safe even though his facts are not always spot on. Referring to the terrorist attack in New York, Michael asks ‘ What do they want?' ‘ They want the whole xxxxxx world to eat Humus!' replies Tom Billy. Sweet.

A powerful, touching  and genuinely funny play,The Big Fella by Richard Bean runs to 13-11-10. Catch it while you can.

Tom Roberts

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