Writer: Helen O’Brien
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
Petite 13-year-old Bronagh Quinn has a big weekend ahead. Her Irish Dancing skills are going to be in demand at her cousin’s wedding on Saturday and she is to dance in competition on Sunday. She plans to challenge convention and expand the type of dancing that is allowed and to cop off with a boy she has had her eye on.
Writer and performer Helen O’Brien uses her considerable dancing skills to ensure that her one-woman show is much more than just a monologue. In an inspired sequence she blends traditional Irish dancing with the music of ‘ New Order’ to give an unexpected, and more significantly convincing, display of just how flexible the traditional routines can be if employed with imagination.
From the nudging going on among the audience as Bronagh describes the various types of dance, it is obvious that many can relate to O’Brien’s recollections. But the show has an appeal that goes well beyond those who share her background. Surprisingly this is a result of what is left out of the show as much as what is included.
Audiences are, by now, inured to stories of childhoods blighted by abuse, drugs, bullying and other examples of misery. Yet these are all absent from O’Brien’s tale. The worse that happens is an hilariously described punch up at a wedding that results in the groom being served with a restraining order keeping him away from his new bride. ‘The type of beginning of which most couples can only dream’ sighs Bronagh.
The result, although the author is realistically describing a working-class upbringing in straitened circumstances, feels like escapist entertainment. When this is combined with a set of the most likeable characters since ‘ Gavin and Stacey’ the whole show becomes a blessed relief from almost compulsory stories of gloom.
As a writer O’ Brien knows the value of using details to evocative effect. The family budget will stretch only to shoes from Oldham market that are ‘Adidas wish they were’ with four stripes instead of three. O’Brien even slips in the odd punchline to keep the story lively. Recalling that the naïve Bronagh once built a tanker from found objects, including funnels made from discarded Tampax applicators, she remarks that nowadays, with the title ‘Flood’, it would probably win the Turner prize.
‘Bronagh’s Big Weekend’ is the type of show that is becoming increasingly rare – charming, very funny and completely entertaining.