Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe), London SE1
Opened 4 March, 2002

*** Brave but over-written political fable of modern Ireland

You don't have to know the details of the Charles Haughey affair to appreciate Sebastian Barry's play; its weaknesses, too, lie elsewhere.

The chronology of events, the few details we hear of alleged venality, and Patrick Malahide's wonderful performance as former Taoiseach Johnny Silvester, all make clear that this play has been inspired by Ireland's 1980s Prime Minister Haughey (whose lawyers apparently looked carefully at it during its run at the Abbey in Dublin). But this is less a satire than a sombre, considered portrayal of power and personal lives, public and private vices and virtues. Silvester confronts ghosts, metaphorical and literal, from his past, and tries in retirement to keep both his home life and his own mental faculties together, with limited success in either area.

Playwright Barry, author of the magnificient The Steward Of Christendom, has put thought and poetry into this civic play. The trouble is that, on the one hand, the poetry is too much heightened and self-conscious both in its quotations and in Barry's own phrasing and on the other, there is no real detail of the alleged misdeeds in office. A characteristically scrupulous production by Max-Stafford Clark, but the play itself never quite comes into focus.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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