Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 26 Oct–Sat 17 Nov
In the era of celebrity, we’ve grown accustomed to people of no particular talent becoming famous for being famous. But if these folk have begun to provoke immense and arduous torpor with endless confessions about relationships, diets and other people’s sexuality, there are other kinds of celebrities who still exercise a fleeting sympathy. These are the folk brought into the spotlight by the media’s endless fixation with ‘human interest’ who, quite accidentally, become the centre of attention, from the ‘have a go heroes’ so lamentably endorsed by Jack Straw to the bereaved parents of lost children mounting campaigns against various social ills.
One such figure lies at the centre of Brian Friel’s 1977 play, a middle ranking Irish army officer, who, after a heroic deed that saves the lives of a number of his men on a blameless UN mission, finds himself and the small Donegal town at which he’s garrisoned, besieged by all manner of journalists and high ranking politicians. The effect of all this on his much younger wife, as well as his family is ultimately very destructive, and a tragedy unfolds that involves domestic revelations and memories of a past remembered differently by each character.
Director John Dove, who can count among previous productions at the Lyceum, acclaimed versions of All My Sons and Death of a Salesman is keen to emphasise the disorientating effect of celebrity on the characters. ‘It could be an 18th or 19th century tragedy, but what makes it very 21st century is this idea of celebrity,’ he says. ‘They’re in a small town in Donegal, and they’re just not ready for that. They keep picking up the paper and finding themselves in it, and they wouldn’t normally have been in it in a hundred million lifetimes. This completely changes them.’
Dove also reflects on the difference between this returned soldier and the ones we might see in Britain: ‘It’s absolutely the opposite for British troops in Iraq, whose presence is dwindling and not welcome in the first place. The point about Frank’s mission is the UN are needed there, and it reflects great credit on Ireland, the UN, everyone involved. So this is something he’s done that’s generally enhancing. The characters in this play are simple people, and they aren’t sure about the rights and wrongs of all this – they aren’t ready to answer the kind of sophisticated questions about the mission that other people have.’