Nothing is sacred here, least of all anything mythic and Irish: The great hero Fionn MacCool is here a mad old ranter whom everyone talks over and around, and king Sweeny is a raving idiot who swings from trees. Johnston and director Jimmy Fay add their own innovative bit of parody in a very funny film sequence that puts across a great deal of necessary information with admirable economy.
By and large, this young creative team have succeeded in finding a stage language that is as distinctively theatrical as O’Brien’s writing is wholly and necessarily literary. Johanna Connor’s superb set is an unfolding magic box that , in tandem with Trevor Dawson’s excellent lighting, creates distinctive and blessedly clear playing areas.
Fay’s direction is pacy and often very clever, but many of the transitions between bits of action are clunkily handled; one wonders if there was a smoother and perhaps more magical way to make the shifts between plots and characters that this complicated story requires.
Where Fay’s production truly shines is in its casting: Nearly all of these actors seem born to play their characters, from Johnny Murphy’s bramble-encrusted Fionn to Tony Flynn’s beautifully physicalized Sweeny to Anto Nolan’s dopily declaiming Shanahan to Robert Price’s scary, bug-eyed Orlick. While Mick Nolan seems ill-at-ease as the god-fearing Uncle, he is in his stride as tortured Trellis; and Ronan Leahy deserves special mention for the clarity and intensity of his portrayal of the Student.