Review: Druid Theatre’s A Whistle in the Dark

By a chance encounter with one of Druid’s posters stuck up in a cafe in Galway (traditional media is still effective then), I found myself at the lovely Town Hall Theatre last night for Druid Theatre’s A Whistle in the Dark. The production is part of the company’s DruidMurphy project, which is a celebration and study of the work of Tom Murphy and is actually being directed by the playwright also.

Featuring a great line up of actors including Eileen Walsh, Marty Rea, Niall Buggy and Aaron Monaghan; A Whistle in the Dark is not for the faint-hearted but for those who brave it out, it’s an invigorating story of how violence, stubborn pride as well as denial is passed down through a family to devastating effects.

Rea’s Michael is the meek eldest son of the Carney family, known for their violent, scoundrel ways. Having left the family home in Ireland ten years previous to settle in England, he has married an Englishwoman (Walsh’s Betty) and made a home for himself, away from a self-righteous, domineering father and bullying brothers. His safe haven doesn’t last too long, and his brothers and father follow him to England to settle a debt and resurrect old tensions within the family.

Hassled from one end from a wife who is desperate for them to live their own life away from his wild family and from the other by his alpha-male brothers and father who tease and taunt him for his lack of strength and dominance; Michael is very much at crisis-point. His ultimate impetus is the family’s indoctrination of the youngest son Des, into their violent ways.

I’ve been to far too many Hollywood blockbuster movies, along with a childhood spent watching Terminator 2 on constant repeat to be easily disturbed by violence however, typical of the way theatre has the ability to move an audience much more than cinema; when violence is displayed in person in front of you, it can be quite shocking. Not just the physical acts however, a lot of my fellow audience members drew their breaths sharply and I even heard some tutting when quite vicious language was used.

Along with a lively script and well-played machismo by the Carney brothers; the stagecraft also backs up the tone of the play. Defying the rules of stagecraft to wonderful effect, the characters regularly kept their backs to the audience; signifying their inability to communicate, shutting out their fellow characters and the audience too. It was really great to see simple stagecraft like this executed so subtly and so effectively.

[Spoiler alert] The play also finishes beautifully, with very effective lines falling from Dada standing tall, looking down to Iggy and Hugo, then to Henry looking down at Michael who cradles Des in his arms, showing how the violence has originated and been passed down between the family, ending with its ultimate victim – Des.

When originally staged in London in 1961, having been rejected by the Abbey Theatre’s artistic director; A Whistle in the Dark was met with much controversy and it’s not difficult to understand why. It was evident that quite a lot of the audience were unsettled by last night’s performance, and it’s this the most reassuring thing? That as a society we are not accustomed to violence and react accordingly. My most worrying thought is that I wasn’t disturbed enough.

The Details:

DruidMurphy finishes its Galway tour on June 9 – find more information booking here >>

Other than that, you can catch it throughout the summer and this autumn as part of their tour, taking in London, New York, Galway again for the Arts Festival, Oxford Playhouse, Cork, various locations in Co. Galway, Dublin and finally, Washington.

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