Review: The Poor Mouth at The Project Arts Centre

It’s been years since I read an uttering from Flann O’Brien and more’s the pity. With a uniquely Irish, twisted and convulted but so irrestibly lyrical turn of phrase, O’Brien is, despite opinions to the contrary, a unique Irish writer.

Yes, he did follow on from Joyce which was an enormous struggle in itself for any writer not least one who shared the same alma mater and stomping ground with the writer of the world-famous blue books of Eccles, and while I’m not entirely convinced O’Brien did enough to stay away from Joyce, he did carve through a style and niche of his own.

His imaginative meanderings through dark and unknown worlds led by the careful hands of colourful and insightful characters marks a new dawn in postmodern writing for Irish literature. At Swim Two Birds being his most famous novel, other works such as The Third Policeman and An Béal Bocht can boast an enormous amount of literary achievement.

While these quirky pieces of literature have found themselves enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in popularity in recent years; they have also taken to the stage thanks to the impressive and careful work of dramaturge Jocelyn Clarke. Blue Raincoat are currently staging Clarke’s stage adaptation of O’Brien’s novel An Béal Bocht in one of the Sligo company’s newest productions – The Poor Mouth.

Having seen Blue Raincoat’s productions of At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman, I thought I knew what I was in for – imaginative staging, energetic performances and complete dedication to appreciating the writing style of Flann O’Brien. I didn’t expect however, for a completely new imagining of a book I thought I had already made my mind up about.

To me, An Béal Bocht is a cleverly constructed parody of the island literature that was prominent during the Celtic Revival era – it’s packed full of lots of fun pastiches of over-enthusiastic gaelgóirs, ignorant peasants and the general misery and hardship we’ve come to expect in plenty of Irish literature. Blue Raincoat keep all this wonderful humour and very astute observations on the ridiculous over-simplified attitudes of the Celtic Revivalists, but also manage to extract the beautiful humanity of the novel’s story. The sadness as well as the uplifting and joyous moments throughout the story are treated with enormous reverence and create extremely poignant moments throughout the production.

The company have never failed to impress me and with a great cast led by the extremely talented Ruth Lehane; The Poor Mouth is both a respectable tribute to Ireland’s greatest postmodern writer as well as a celebration of his wry wit and cruel and unmistakably Irish sense of humour.

Newcomers to O’Brien’s work may find it hard to get used to the long rambling sentences full of clauses and roundabout ways of getting to the point and the production keeps perhaps a little bit too close to the text resulting in quite a lengthy performance, but these minor issues aside The Poor Mouth is well worth the visit to The Project Arts Centre for what, I personally promise will be a clever, creative, moving and most of all, fun production.

Plays until November 24 – more details here >>

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