Between Foxrock And A Hard Place – Review

It’s the latest stage adaptation of Paul Howard’s eponymous south Dublin anti-hero Ross O’ Carroll Kelly, womaniser, wasted Rugby talent and ungrateful sponger extraordinaire, a comedy foil created to showcase the worst aspects of Ireland’s booming Celtic Tiger years. Ross is a bit of a craze in Ireland, a D4 loafer, more obsessed with his chinos then in anything that actually effects the country. The books, chronicling Ross’s privileged but frequently disaster ridden life from school to his thirties thus far, are all best sellers in Ireland.

One night, while preparing to take part in a children’s half-time kick competition at the RDS, that only in Ross’s mind could be a life defining moment, he ends up being held up at gunpoint and forced to spend the evening with the members of his increasingly erratic family, victims of a Tiger kidnapping plot. Ross (Rory Nolan) is caught along with his capitalist, crook father Charles (Philip O’Sullivan), high society mother Fionnuala (Susan Fitzgerald), illegitimate north-side crime expert son Ronan (Laurence Kinlan), soon to be ex-wife Sorcha (Lisa Lambe), newly discovered half-sister Erika (Aoibhinn McGinnity) along with the kidnapper himself (Gary “Apres Match”  Cooke). The seven spend the play together in the front room of the parents home, facing a disaster of epic proportions: unless Charles can get free in order to bribe a “lobbyist”, a council re-drawing will soon land their Foxrock home in, gulp, Sandyford East, wiping half of its six million pricetag.

The characters are all performed fairly well, staying true to their written counterparts. Ross is suitably unabashed and ignorant of the feelings of all those around him, Charles is the unrepentant properly developer, Ronan is nicely portrayed as the scumbag with a heart of gold. It helps that the cast are mostly returning from the last stage adaptation The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger, and are fairly familiar with the roles as a result. Of course, anyone who is not familiar with the characters from Howard’s writings already might be a bit lost on occasion, though in fairness, the play does a good job of introducing each person and explaining their relationships to each other. The script seems to take a myriad of plot and sub-plot from the last two books and mush it all together into two and a half hours, mostly for once off monologues and the like.

The writing is excellent, going heavy on the satirical themes, especially, of course, that of the south Dublin “Dortspeak” accent, which is employed for much of the little bits of humour required, notably the way Sorcha pronounces Guards: “Gords”. One must note that this play probably wouldn’t find much of an audience outside Ireland, or perhaps even outside Leinster: it is fairly obscure Irish humour when it comes right down to it.

The jokes tend to come in big sudden pops, rather than a constant train of smaller ones, which is fine, the status quo seeming to be one-liners delivered after someone else has spoken (especially Ronan and Ross). As is the way with the books, it isn’t all comedy, Woodward mixing plenty of genuine drama into the script as well, though usually with a sardonic comment from Ross at the end.

In that, the play gets a little slow as it nears intermission (four acts, two on either side), but this is made up for the by the far superior second half, where most of the best jokes occur.

Perhaps the best, and most interesting, part of the show is the dynamic between Charles and Martin, the kidnapper, who argue and debate over the causes and effects of the recession, the shows big talking point. As mentioned, Charles is utterly unrepentant over his role and the role of his friends in the economic crisis, and surprisingly enough, he actually makes a good case: he argues that he “and his kind” could have left the country during the end times of the 80s but choose to stay, that their business tactics dragged the country into the modern age during the nineties, that reckless borrowing practices from “the people” are just as much to blame as reckless lending, and that, at the end of the day, no one was complaining in the good times before the recession started. As he so grimly puts it “Fianna Fail didn’t seize power in a coup d’état” they were elected, several times over.

Martin counters that Charles is still a crook (very true) and that the effects of the Celtic Tiger were not felt throughout all of Ireland (also true) and that different standards apply for crime in Ireland, between what Ross hilarious dubs the “haves and have-Yachts”). It is an excellent back and forth relationship that makes up the back bone of the show.

In fact, the whole thing is a long sequence of double acts, some recurring, as two characters square off with each other, with the remaining five just adding random bits of dialogue or offering humorous commentary. There is the above of course but also Ross trying it on with his separated wife, Sorcha fighting with Erika over Ross (not in that way though), Charles and his wife and Fionnuala and Martin, in one of the best bits, as Fionnuala honestly compares her previous life in a slightly smaller house in a rundown estate to Martin’s horror-filled tour in the Lebanon peacekeeping mission.

It’s actually Ronan, excellently played, who gets a lot of the humour, in the form of critiquing the kidnapping plan and performance of Martin, frequently offering him advice and tips, much to the horror of the rest of his family. “Better fire a few warning shots in the air” he says when things get tense, much to his fathers chagrin.

The occasional serious stuff doesn’t really detract from the humour that much, it just keeps the whole thing grounded. Of particular note is Ross’s heartfelt revelation that he never learned to read until he was 16, which he blames on parental inattentiveness.

In fact, Ross doesn’t actually have a lot to do, that conversation being one of his bigger moments. There is no main character in this show really, Ross just getting an opening soliloquy to mark him out. He gets just as many lines as the others, and some of them are the funniest, but he is sidelined to an extent. This is very noticeable on stage, since the books are all written from his unique perspective.

The stuff he does get is excellent though, very true to the written character, who is a worthless misogynist most of the time, but, like Darth Vader, has a good side, one that is rarely glimpsed but justifies the constant putting-up that the rest of the family does with him. While he mocks the north side, he is genuinely protective of his son, he clumsily attempts a reconciliation with Sorcha, then later puts himself in front of a gun pointed at her, he ridicules his father non-stop, but tries to stop him from doing something that could put him back in prison for life. It’s all good stuff, and it is important in order to remind us why Ross is a character worth liking, apart from hating. Though, it is perhaps his dislikable qualities, like his barefaced denial of having any fault whatsoever, that make him so entertaining.

Some might be disappointed that the other major characters in the books – Ross’s friends Fionn, Christian, JP and Oisinn, along with others like Charles’ lawyer fired Hennessy, don’t make appearances, but this play, taking place entirely in one room, over one night, just doesn’t have room for them, unfortunately. As for the other criticisms, I suppose you shouldn’t go looking for any kind of major insight into the lives of the south Dublin elite or the financial crisis, those topics are only covered briefly. It is a satire at the end of the day, and it doesn’t try too hard to be anything other than that (which is fine).

Overall, an excellent show, one I would fully recommend.

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