Due to personal circumstances it has taken me a while to get around to this post, however that is not because I have been avoiding writing it, far from it. Saturday, May 18th was a good day. Better even than I had thought it would be. I realised I needed to get my act together if I was going to manage to make it to Salisbury Playhouse to see ‘A Man of No Importance’ – it began its run on April 25th and May 18th was the final day but I am so glad I decided to go. I have to be honest, although I had read the advertising about this production and I knew that Fra Fee was in it (my main incentive for going apart from the Playhouse only being 30 minutes from home) but I had never heard the music and I didn’t really know what I was going to see. What I got was in fact a moving and powerful show – far deeper and more hard hitting than I had realised.
Mark Meadows played Alfie, a bus conductor in Dublin in the 1960’s. Alfie was a huge figure within the community, through meeting many people and reciting poetry on his bus rounds and also through the local (somewhat amateur and rather poor) drama group. He is the central character to this story and I absolutely couldn’t fault Meadow’s portrayal. Despite the surrounding community Alfie is lonely and trapped within himself – I had figured out why early on but Meadows made the character so real and I could absolutely feel his anguish. The story continues the community theme with the regular bus passsengers all being in the local drama club and all being rather shocked by the years choice of play – ‘Salome’ – seen as vulgar and blasphemous.
I loved how each character had a story, each one their own beliefs and many with something ‘to hide’. This made the story all the more poignant, that despite their beliefs, a lot of them were in some way ‘sinners’. Because of the Catholic rules, extra marital affairs, same sex relationships and children outside of marriage are all frowned upon hugely. A Man of No Importance covers these issues, all still relevant today in a touching and very real way. It also looks at how humans are fickle beings and the minute something seen as untoward occurs they will readily turn against friends and in some cases even family.
The reality of this is a sad fact and I think this production really hits home. Laura Pitt Pulford played the lovely Adele, an umarried newcomer to the community who everyone welcomes readily but who carries with her a secret. Alfie Byrne, the centrepiece of the community, a regular and popular chap until he comes out. Robbie (played by Fra Fee), the object of Alfie’s unrequited affections, who is having an affair with the married Mrs Patrick (Esther Biddle). Each person deals with their situation in different ways and it is not until the end of the play when the friends of these individuals realise that they are not as innocent as they would like to think either and how despite their secret lives, these friends are still the same people as they always were.
Beatings, being shunned, disowned and sent away were all things faced by people, and in some areas to some extent still are. A Man of No Importance covers them all and really does highlight this. Something I particularly liked was the way Oscar Wilde was used as an alter ego for Alfie in his battle with himself about his sexuality. It tied in beautifully with the love of theatre, ‘art’ as Alfie often refers to it, and his desire to be in a relationship and be loved just as heterosexual people were allowed to be. I also thought that the prejudiced folk showed their disgust well, Alfie’s sister Lily (Angela Bain) was well cast as she tried to come to terms with Alfie’s lifestyle and Mrs Grace (Mia Soteriou) added a lovely touch of humour to proceedings. It was also fun to see ‘rehearsals’ of the play within this musical as they were very realistic and full of the usual dramatic characters often seen in societies!
As seems to be a theme to the recent Irish shows I’ve been to, the cast are also the instrumentalists but the array of instruments they each play is incredible. Fra Fee alone played tin whistle, flute, piano and accordion (something which he apparently learnt to do in 8 weeks!) but they all provided the music for the entire production, regularly alternating instruments – I have to say I thought they were all amazing the way they just chopped and changed, each without any music to follow and all absolutely note perfect! The music itself was of a traditional Irish nature and was extremely pleasant, the songs helping to tell the story and sometimes adding an element of humour. The music was quite gentle but perfectly suited to the subjects within the show, with a lot of moving lyrics and beautifully told stories. I really enjoy these actor/muso productions, I think they bring another level to performances and I’m in awe (and rather jealous) of how talented all these people are!
I found myself riveted and really quite fond of the various characters – a good sign that the acting and storytelling was top class. I was lucky enough to go on the same day as some other theatre folk (Killian Donnelly, George Blagden and Niall Sheehy to be precise) but it was very interesting speaking to them about it afterwards. It seems that A Man of No Importance is popular in Ireland with Killian and Niall both having seen it previously (and admitting they would love to do it if it wasn’t for having to provide the music as well). They both agreed that this was a fantastic production – I had nothing to compare it to and thoroughly enjoyed it, but they both sang the praises of everyone involved and everything about it – high praise indeed!
As ever, I love expanding my library of plays and musicals so it was great to be able to see this, but I do feel honoured to have been witness to this rather special piece of theatre. If it is put on again I would definitely recommend that people go to see it as the impact is huge. It is a shame this was a short run but I will be keeping an eye out for it in future – it is just a shame that the cast of another production will be different as these guys were brilliant. A Man of No Importance? Perhaps. A Musical of No Importance? Absolutely not.