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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME!
at the Donmar Warehouse

WHAT REMAINS UNSAID
By CLAIRE ALLFREE

  Paul Reid and Rory Keenan/ Ph: Johan Persson

Brian Friel’s 1964 play is an eloquent series of imperfect goodbyes. Gar is about to leave his hometown of Ballybeg for the more hopeful, gaudy lights of Philadelphia, and spends his last night at home seeking out the people he’ll miss. He is exhilarated to be leaving the daily grind of working in his elderly father’s store, to be escaping the circumscribed nature of life in Ballybeg, to be reaching out to new horizons. So why is nearly every farewell unsatisfactory?
 
His elderly widower father barely seems to register his departure. The lads are itching to get off to the dance hall to watch some girls rather than stay and have one last drink with him. He can’t even manage to say goodbye properly to the girl he loves, whose hand he failed to ask for in marriage, and who is now married, perhaps regretfully, to someone else. And yet he despises these people, too, or at least the lives they lead, for in order to encapsulate the conflicted condition of the emigre, Friel has deftly given us two Gars: public Gar who is guilt stricken, confused and uncertain; and his louder, more vulgar alter ego private Gar, who gives subversive voice to Gar’s inner thoughts, mocks the monotony of Balleybeg domesticity and is prone to campily bursting into American show tunes.
 
The divided self of the exile and the complex attachments of home may be enduring themes of Irish literature, but Friel still gives us a richly rewarding study in the exile’s predisposition to misremember, and the way the past seems to break into pieces each time you try and grab onto it. Gar is trying to construct a coherent memory of his home life to take with him to Philadelphia, albeit one haunted by the death of his mother, but it keeps slipping away. At one point, he almost begs his taciturn, emotionally walled up, barely penetrable dad (James Hayes) to recall a boating trip they took together when he was young; his father cannot. Yet in a poignant reprise of this scenario, his father recalls a different memory, but Gar has gone to bed so he has to share it – and in the play’s most wrenching moment his gathering grief at his son’s imminent departure – with the housekeeper instead.
 
Lyndsey Turner’s perfectly pitched revival beautifully honours the play’s many quiet notes of regret and pain, and its many more moments of misconnection. Every actor here is excellent, from Paul Reid’s fraught, conflicted public Gar to Rory Keegan’s exuberantly contrasting private Gar, both of whom effortlessly transcend the artifice of Friel’s dramatic device. Valerie Lilley is exquisite as the housekeeper, all vinegary tongue and gentle heart, while Killian Burke and Dylan Kennedy as Gar’s drinking buddies track the self-doubt behind the bravado. Nothing is overdone here; the guts of this play lie in what remains unsaid. Lovely.

 


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