Monday, 10 November 2014

The Big Casino - The Irish Theatre Players (9 November 2014)

Three ducks on the wall. A kitchen table. A squabbling family full of colourful characters. An outsider who throws a spanner in the works. Witty dialogue and various hijinks. Trademarks of a certain style of comedic play writer-director Noel O’Neill specialises in.  Seen earlier in the year with It’s All Greek To Me at the Old Mill and previously with Confetti from Graceland and its sequel Spaghetti and Graceland

Here the family is a bunch of crims from 1960s London comprising Bert (‘The Organiser’) and his two sons, the fiery Alan (‘The Hood’) and Harold (‘The Simpleton’). They’re joined around the ubiquitous O’Neill table setting by family friends Eddie ‘The Gambler’ who is on his last chips with the Big C(ancer), and suave Billy ‘The Jewel’. Yes, you know they’re all crooks because they have nicknames!  

It’s no coincidence that the centrepiece of all these plays is a humble domestic setting as this is where families bicker, fight, share stories, recall fond (or fraught) memories, hide secrets, and generally clash and makeup in an endless series of permutations. It allows for pointed banter and the divulging of exposition as there is a collective emotional knowledge and experience together.  The introduction of an outside force disrupts this self-contained eco-system and we get to watch the ramifications as individuals react in different ways.

The outsider is ‘Susan the Hostage’. Yes, the lads have gone and kidnapped the wife of a wealthy businessman so that they can ransom her off in order to get Eddie to the home of casinos, Monte Carlo, before he says the big adios. As you might imagine, such a harebrained scheme is ripe for complications on multiple fronts before having a happy ending in more ways than one.

Kim Taylor plays Bert and Noel the Playwright not only makes him do most of the heavy lifting with the bulk of the dialogue but Noel the Director foists a lisp on him as well. As he did in It’s All Greek To Me, Taylor provides the play’s bedrock as the patriarchal figure who, here, derides his sons and tries to do the best for his mate, Eddie. David Buckley impresses as the testosterone fuelled Alan who stands up to his father, mocks his brother, and resents Susan’s influence. Cameron Leese in some ways reprises his role from It’s All Greek To Me as the slow-witted one who interjects with innocent humour and is horrified to learn the true fate of his missing cat.

Emilio Evans gives Billy a certain smooth charm as he talks about ‘his Alice’ and his character seems the most sensible of the lot. Noel himself steps in at short notice to play Eddie and anybody who thinks just because you write and direct a piece you can slide easily into a role will be sorely surprised. He finds his feet in the second act and will be more in rhythm in the first with a few more run throughs before the next performance. In fairness, it’s a bloody hard thing to do but Noel is a consummate actor and handled himself admirably given the circumstances.

Then there is Clare Mulchinock as Susan who injects a shot of adrenaline into proceedings in the second act. Far from the demure victim she plays the hostage as feisty and practical with a few surprises along the way. If anything, her ‘unveiling’ at the start of the second act would have been better placed midway through the first. While the banter between the lads is entertaining enough there is an over familiarity to it all and the lack of plot progression means the story is marking time a little. 

Once Susan is let loose in the second half the dynamic changes and this opens up interesting strands and comic potential. Finally, the plot mechanics kick in as there is an awareness of what they’ve really done and what’s needed to fix it and still get Eddie his parting gift. It would have also given more time for Susan’s eventual arc which, while taking an unexpected direction, felt truncated within the confines of only one act.

I must mention that the Irish Club goes out of its way to create a really good atmosphere with a roulette table, fabulous raffle prizes, and a generous spread at intermission. The members and staff are all enthusiastic and friendly which added to the Sunday matinee experience.

If you enjoy fast talking crims, a little black humour, and a bawdy ending you’ll enjoy The Big Casino which is on at the Irish Club in Subiaco until 15 November. The play is written and directed by Noel O’Neill, starring Kim Taylor, David Buckley, Emilio Evans, Cameron Leese, Clare Mulchinock and that man O’Neill. He’s everywhere!

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