“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
The beautiful season of golden Irish Lughnasa inevitably brings us back to county Donegal. After the successful national and international run of McGuinness’ Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme, we have the pleasure to witness another work by the Donegal-born playwright. In his new play Frank McGuinness introduces us to The Days, a west country Irish family with a musical spark.
Donegal isn’t a musical, it’s “a play with songs”. Quite good and catchy ones, too. Once rich and famous, Irene Day’s (played by Siobhan McCarthy) singing career has seen better times. She barely sells any tickets, no matter how hard her husband Conor (played by Frank Laverty) and sister Joanne (played by Eleanor Methven) work to lure the audience in. Irene has the whole family working for her to regain the love of the Irish music lovers. But no family is a proper family without a black sheep in it. Jackie Day (played by Killian Donnelly), Irene’s own son, is a country singer, too. Be it the jealousy of his success or the accusations that he throws at her for being a bad mother, Irene admits that she had never listened to anything that he had ever produced. But, life is a tricky thing. Now she depends entirely on him to bring her old life back.
What we once learnt with Brian Friel, we can now solidify with Frank McGuinness. Every good Irish play has a deviated torn apart family in it. Generation after generation, they hate, bad mouth and poison each other, but no bonds are stronger than the family bonds. Relatives wash down with liquor all their little tragedies and unhappinesses just to wake up the next morning and carry on with life as it is. The only difference with Donegal is that this play also has some sparkly costumes (designed by Joan O’Clery) and nice tunes (by Kevin Doherty) that you can hum to.
One of the absolute bonuses of seeing this show is evidently the fact they there is a live band at the very back of the stage (under a black veil). Personally, it’s always a plus when for the price of one you get to see a production and listen to some high quality music. It’s also a positive if you are into west-country songs but even if you are not, the melodies of the show create a very powerful atmosphere of a different (somewhat unknown in Dublin) Ireland.
The stunning set design (by Liam Doona) converts from something very simple outdoor-ish into The Day’s house, pub and even a performing arena. That’s when the lighting design (by Ben Ormerod) plays its memorable part. It does create a feeling of a very colourful bright experience; the light will be shining long after the play is over.
Always at its best is Frank McGuinness with the profound characterisation and pencil-sharp lines. Such characters as Magdalene Carolan (unforgettably played by Deirdre Donnelly) shall remain in the history of fictional bad mouthes for a long time. The modern plays are getting corkier and corkier. The usage of language is changing; what once used to be a taboo or, well, fringe, is now a part of life.
An entertaining show, undoubtedly unlike any other, probably makes Donegal one of the absolute highlights of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. Impossible not to enjoy, that’s for sure. Runs until November 19th. For more info or to book tickets: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/donegal/