Last night took me by surprise. I knew when I read the description and bought tickets for the evening that it would be something special, however nothing could have prepared me for what I walked unknowingly into at 8pm last night. Currently there is a real excitement and vibrancy around the arts in Limerick and so true to nature I have been taking full advantage of this and basically attending anything and everything I can. This meant that when an intriguing play was advertised based on the life of a notorious Irish actor; I knew very little of the plot or background but instantly decided to attend. Also advertised as scheduled to be performed in a hotel in the heart of the city, my curiosity further increased and I began to highly anticipate this mysterious evening and evening entitled ‘Macklin- Method and Madness’.
We entered the lobby of The Savoy Hotel, admittedly quite a nice hotel in Limerick and naively approached the reception desk in hopes of discovering some detail of what lies ahead, where to go or what we were walking into. Directed to the left of where we stood tickets in hand, we continued blindly. The first thing that caught my eye was white linen cover tables, shining from a dim and candle light flickering room. Just a glimpse of the interior was enough to set my pulse fluttering. We approached the refreshment and following this, glass on wine in hand, I stepped with delight back in time.
Ushered to a small table, a little to the side of the room, I settled myself, nerves electric with anticipation, eyes darting about the room attempting to understand where I had found myself. Under no circumstance could I have expected to walk into a room, a theatre like this. I will be honest and admit that I was almost certainly expecting to enter a conference room or some type of venue that was lined with fold out chairs and decorated with free standing stage lighting, temporary partitions and a make shift stage. This was absolutely not the case. Instead of my cynical prediction, what was presented to me was glamour. A shadowed room greeted me, bursts of candlelight illuminating round tables and clusters of people dotted about the small unexpected theatre. There was an air of elsewhere about the place, a feeling of being transported from the Limerick I know and placed delicately into a 1920 Jazz club. Red velvet curtains lined one wall and the stage stood neat and proud at the head of the room, adorned with props and elements, indications at what was to come.
The mood of the evening was relaxed and luxurious, created by stunning environment and illusion of the past, the actors arrived in full tux and style, entered the act through the audience and began the play with a feeling of intimacy, creating a setting that felt as though you were spying on a real event rather than watching an acted spectacle, there was a playfulness from the first gesture and commencement of the play.
This two man production set in 1941, in the BBC radio broadcasting headquarters was an immersive and uniquely captivating, intelligent and comedic experience. Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford, through re-enactment of February 14th 1941 broadcasting, told the tale of Charles Macklin, a Donegal native who took the eighteenth-century London stage by storm.
Set during the Blitz, the visuals of the play were bare, slightly crazed and true to what you would feel to be the mood of London at the time. People were alive with the mentality of ceasing the lives they could, there was obvious anger towards the war and the German enemy of the time, there was a class and language unique to London in that period, a comedy of whit, slightly crass with linguistic flare and well meant humour. We were shown what would have only been heard. In a time when radio was vivid entertainment and sound effects were acted and created from ingenuity and imagination. The creativity was en-trawling, the behind the scenes were glimpsed at of this process of radio story creation. It was not only captivating, insightful and highly entertaining, hilarious at times and beautiful to watch, but also reflective to think of the effort and skill needed to create a piece like this for the listening pleasure of the audience. The performers did not just tell a story they acted it even though it would never be seen, they were alive in it, even though they could have merely read it, they were invested and along for the journey, taken by the twists and turns of the tale just like the listener would have been. It was incredibly impressive to watch and even more so to think this is a realistic representation of what would have occurred regularly back in what seems to me to be the golden age of radio.
The plot and play itself began with brief introduction to the radio actors Cecil (Jermyn), Monty (Ford) and their unseen producer, Giles (voiced and what a wonderful voice belongs to Simon Coury) as they interacted with each other and prepared for their broadcast. In our venue, Giles sat at the back of the room, manned the sound and lighting and though could be seen if you swiveled and purposely look, he acted more as the sarcastic and all seeing but never really seen or ever present on stage, disembodied voice of reason and direction for the two highly creative and exuberant actors in the radio studio. Once the broadcast began we were thrown straight away into war torn Ireland, canon fire and peat covered battle fields, the birth place of Cathal MacLochlainn, to be known and revered later as Charles Macklin, the central character of this evenings proceedings.
Jermyn and Ford were outstanding as they, only two became character after character portraying the many elements and influences, the love interests, friends, foes and acquaintances that made up and made it the life that it was, the life of a complex and troubled, talented and torn man, Macklin. Ford lent and crafted an amusingly overwrought and gravelly voice for the bombastic Macklin, mixing crazed caricature with a genuinely felt pathos. Jermyn, master of prop and aural imagination, presented a slew of varying delights that elevated the play and added humour as well as the intended effect of attaching atmosphere and creating a mental image for the listener to accompany what was being heard. The life and turmoil, difficulties and successes of Macklin were animatedly portrayed and engagingly delivered.
Though you were drawn into Macklins plot, his life and drama, I felt equally enamoured and engaged with the portrayal of life during the Blitz in London and the attitudes, manners and circumstances that were daily life. The radio broadcast was interrupted by the howling siren of an air raid alarm, both men took cover under a table, little protection really but they seemed quite content, aggravated more that their tale which was finding a good rhythm and flow was rudely and inconveniently interrupted. As bombs fell all around, the men made small talk and were calmly jovial amidst wartime chaos and what we know to be a brutal, bloody and destructive time. How interesting this was to see and reflect on the attitudes of the time, the perseverance and strength of the people, I cannot claim to think that the generation surrounding me would respond to such a situation in the same manner. The tale of Macklin is one that will linger in my mind for some time to come. An epic and at times unbelievable biography that was truly made by the skill and intelligence, the artistic flare and enthusiasm of Jermyn and Ford, both highly impressive and beautifully suited to the roles they embodied.
When at last the time came for the play to conclude, Jermyn stood at the one classic style microphone centre stage that had been shared throughout the play, delivering his final monologue, the lights dimmed, focused a single spot on his presence and the play concluded in hushed tones, silence fell and the event come to a finish in a contradicting and quietly subtle manner to the flamboyance and mania of what had passed during the hour run previous. As the house lights rose, the applause was rapturous and I knew what I had just seen and felt was something really special. It was a stunning, transporting and highly entertaining play and evening. If ever you happen across this on tour, attend without a moment’s hesitation.