When I first saw The Brother – a solo show culled from the writings of the man known variously as Brian O'Nolan, Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopaleen – a decade ago, Eamon Morrissey had already been at it for fifteen years, on and off. Now, after years of gestation, comes another evening in which Morrissey's unnamed character rambles affably at us for an hour and a half, plus interval. It is part-update, part-sequel; Morrissey's motive is partly to wheel out the greatest hits one more time, partly to nudge towards retirement a show which, given the social changes in Ireland during its lifetime, came to seem increasingly quaint if not actually outdated.
Thus, Morrissey regales us once more with gems such as the "atomic theory" (from O'Brien's novel The Third Policeman) explaining how people may exchange personality traits with their bicycles, and Myles's story of losing what day it is during a monumental drinking spree. Yet, without being too specific, he also laments modernity – "The pubs have all changed now" – and speaks of the changes he has undergone. Sometimes the two strains jar against one another – for instance, Morrissey feels obliged to recite once again a poem hymning the virtues of "a pint of plain", but the routine seems a little adrift, coming as it does an hour after he has succinctly and pre-emptively subverted it by claiming with new-found abstemiousness, "A cup of tea is your only man."
Morrissey's character refers to "the brother" in the past tense throughout this show; the slight uneasiness engendered by this and by other touches, not least the vaguely institutional-looking set, are brought together in a closing tale which blends the horror of Poe or Lovecraft with Myles's more usual tone and characters. Morrissey performs with a mastery born of a quarter-century's familiarity with his material; however, additions and revisions notwithstanding, he is also afflicted by a certain mild complacency for the same reasons. His "automatic" mode is easy and unforced, but it is none the less automatic. Still, Morrissey's O'Brien routine is as solid and accepted a fixture as the General Post Office building on O'Connell Street, and as far as attracting custom is concerned, a review is equally superfluous in either case.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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