Writer: Emma Donoghue
Director: Annabelle Comyn
Music: Philip Stewart
Reviewer: Alan Foran
The Public Reviews Rating:
There is no point in going around the houses; it’s better to say it out straight. Emma Donoghue’s new work, The Talk of the Town, is simply great. Add to this fabulous performances and you have a winner. This is a quality production that focuses on telling the story the best way it can. And it succeeds in spades from start to finish, while walking a solid line in keeping it all very real, with ample help from an original soundtrack, resulting in a satisfying, solid and entertaining night out in the theatre.
Inspired by the life of Irish writer and columnist Meave Brennan, other wise known as the “Long-Winded Lady” who in the 1950s and 60s became celebrated and respected in New York, Donoghue crafts a wonderful piece that genuinely moves, while giving us some idea about the life and work of Brennan. While it is about Brennan, it could also be said to be about writing, family and life. Perhaps, a bit like Brennan’s own subject matter: her columns could be a sassy commentary on society and style; while her short stories reflected a more introspective tone, the program notes explain. She wrote initially for Harper’s Bazaar and then The New Yorker, and it is at this point that the play begins, as she starts her new job at the famed magazine.
Brennan is played by Catherine Walker, and it is a powerhouse, yet subtle, engaging performance, bringing Brennan to life in front of our eyes, both the highs and the lows, and her struggle to write. Walker’s accent is spot on, going from a slight American accent to an Irish one on certain key words. Amplification is used, but only where Brennan is writing, marking the change from life into her thoughts. It is not a new device, but here it blends into the action rather than taking us out of it. Lorcan Cranitch, as William Shawn, delivers another solid performance.
The set, designed by Paul O’Mahoney, is both simple and highly effective. A mix of parquet floor, book cases, movable wooden tables with matching chairs are of the time. But a section in the background, is another world; a house where a mother, father and child occupy from time to time, and as Brennan writes, they play this out behind a clear perspex screen, with Natasha Chivers lighting getting it all right. It is different in its look, feel and tone. We are presented with worlds in various guises: Dublin and New York, writing and life, the past and the present, the solo violin and the brash music of New York, all crafted together skilfully. Costumes, by Peter O’Brien, reflect the time and style perfectly.
It is a triumph for Hatch Theatre Company, Landmark productions and everyone involved. It doesn’t try to be sentimental, or get too heavy, or deliver homilies. And you don’t need to know anything about Brennan either. In fact leaving the theatre, some audience members sounded like they were going to find out more about her.
This is Talk of the Town’s world première, but it won’t be the last you’ll see of it. Catch it if you can. Extra dates have been added due to demand, so move quickly. You’ll be in for a treat.
Photo: Patrick Redmond
Runs until 20 October