Flann’s Yer Only Man – Theatre@36, Dublin
Writer and performer: Val O’Donnell
Director: Terry O’Dea
Theatre@36 is in the basement of a beautiful Georgian property in Parnell Square. The stage is square and nestles among the comfortable seating. It is an unassuming setting for a theatre but as Bare Bodkin Theatre Company’s production proves, great theatre and great performances can happen behind any Dublin door. This critically acclaimed performance of Flann’s Yer Only Man has been toured across Ireland and has come to a temporary stop at Dublin’s Theatre@36. The intimate setting of theatre@36 perfectly suits this one man tour de force.
The Flann of the title refers to novelist, playwright and satirist Brian O’Nolan (1911 – 1966). O’Nolan is perhaps better known by the name of Flann O’Brien and also Myles na Gopaleen, the name under which he wrote his hugely popular and often savagely entertaining celebrated satire Cruiskeen Lawn, which ran as a regular column in the Irish Times for many years. He is often considered to be the finest Irish satirist since the inimitable Jonathan Swift. O’Brien wrote in both English and Gaelic and is considered to be one of the twentieth centuries leading Irish literary figures even though his work was not always appreciated on its release (the destruction of most copies of his 1939 debut novel At Swim Two Birds in a London warehouse during the Second World War put an end to any dreams of mass popular appeal with his structurally revolutionary novel).
O’Donnell tackles a wide range of extracts from O’Brien’s novels, plays and in particular his newspaper column while also pinpointing key biographical events in the writer’s life. O’Donnell does this with aplomb. He makes the audience want to go away and discover, or rediscover, O’Brien’s works. This concise and wide ranging performance helps to delve into the very core of what it is that made O’Brien’s writing so popular and visionary. The performance retains a strong sense of respect and appreciation for O’Brien without being sycophantic. It is difficult to create a one man show that both appeals and holds the audience’s attention but this one does. O’Donnell is a consummate performer. His love of both O’Brien and the relationship between his works and the process that occurs on stage between the audience and actor shine through.
O’Donnell is a long term member of the Club na Muinteoiri, the Teachers Club, and home of Theatre@36 in Dublin and is very welcome back on stage. Appropriately for the venue Flann’s Yer Only Man is a fusion of documentary and theatre, creating a unique performance that both entertains and educates the audience. Importantly the performance never fails to entice laughter from the audience as O’Donell acts out chosen scenes from a wide variety of published works.
The performance is very well directed, with O’Dea working closely with writer and sole performer O’Donnell to create a clear course through the wealth of source material provided by O’Brien. It has an accessible and circular narrative that navigates both the writer’s works and his life. Additional focus is given by the selective use of spot lighting and classical music which emerges at significant moments in the narrative.
Prior knowledge of O’Brien’s work is not necessary to enjoy this production, certainly it will speak to those new to his works as much as to lifelong fans. Flann’s Yer Only Man is O’Donnell’s very funny one man play that brings to life the works and literary genius of Flann O’Brien.
Photo courtesy of Theatre@36. Runs until February 7th.