Declan Conlon and Denis Conway dominate the Gate stage in the theatre’s first ever production of a Tom Murphy play.
The play takes place entirely within the dingy office of JPW King (Declan Conlon), an Englishman who has washed up in Dublin as a ‘Dynamatologist’. King’s quackery has reduced him to sleeping on his office’s pull-out sofa, from where he is roused by a possible patient, the unnamed Irishman (Denis Conway). A property developer in the midst of a psychotic break, the Irishman has become transfixed by a vinyl record of the Italian tenor Gigli, and needs to sing like the great man. King realises he is out of his depth, and wants to refer this potentially dangerous man to a real psychiatrist, someone who will prescribe drugs instead of talking quasi-scientific motivational palaver about atomic realignment. But the Irishman insists King is the man for the job, and King becomes obsessed himself – with proving dynamatology can achieve the impossible.
The Gigli Concert is an odd play. It doesn’t fit easily into Murphy’s canon, and itself is a two-hander with three characters; King’s mistress Mona (Dawn Bradfield) makes fleeting appearances that relieve the tension. Murphy explores transference of identity between patient and doctor, so that it’s hard to say who is crazy and who sane, and the play even seems to change genres as it progresses; the second act delving noticeably further into black comedy than the first. Murphy, in 1983, seemed to be probing the psyche of the men in mohair jackets, the experts in brown paper bags; whose lack of creativity was exemplified in their impulse to destroy Georgian Dublin to make a quick buck redeveloping it. But in 2015 almost more pressing is King’s journey; a cynical, spent fraud who digs deep to find his potential heroism.
Director David Grindley has revived Journey’s End to acclaim in England, and his rendition of Murphy’s difficult script builds to a wonderful climax where Lucifer appears to be called on (via Sinead McKenna’s fiery lighting design) to help achieve the impossible – singing like Gigli, after the record player has been plugged out. Conlon is on top form as King, hilariously exuberant in the second act when critiquing God or recounting adventures with psychiatrists, and affecting when discussing his failures. Conway is impressive in his physical acting of the Irishman, stiff, aggressive, and violent, easing into relaxed, confident movement; but at times his moments of emotional paralysis seem vocally mannered. Bradfield has a small part, but makes an earthy impression as the best-adjusted character. But when all the characters are to varying degrees mentally ill (not helped by heavy drinking), can one really imagine that Murphy is celebrating achieving delusional desires?
Grindley coaxes assured performances from his cast, but thirty years on Murphy’s unusual, challenging play still defies easy readings as to its ultimate meaning.
The Gigli Concert continues its run at the Gate until June 27th.