Arts: Theatre: Physical force in a bedsit: PADDY IRISHMAN, PADDY ENGLISHMAN, AND PADDY...? TRICYCLE THEATRE LONDON

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The Independent Culture
PADDY IRISHMAN, Paddy Englishman, and Paddy...? is a bit of a mouthful as a name, but then the ideal subtitle for Declan Croghan's new play would also be a touch unwieldy: In the Shadow of `The Shadow of a Gunman'. Located in a squalid Kilburn bed-sit occupied by a Likely Lads duo of young, expat Irish labourers, this appealing tragi-comedy pointedly borrows the template Sean O'Casey employed in his play set in a Dublin tenement in 1920. The twist Croghan gives to the same basic elements - a youth farcically trading on a false reputation for plucky IRA loyalty, scruffy domesticity disrupted by a suitcase full of explosives dumped by a genuine terrorist, and a problematically idealistic young woman willing to take charge of this - is designed to point up the differences and continuities between the Irish political landscape back then and the way it appears now in the light of the referendum and the Good Friday agreement.

The two major adjustments would seem to be in the depiction of the terrorist and of the young woman. The irony, with the former, is that the bloody shoot-out in a local pub which gives this unreconstructed die-hard a mortal wound is not with the conventional enemy but (if I understand it correctly) with his own top brass who, given the current climate, are out to eliminate him. As for the woman, Una (the excellent Annie Farr), she is no longer O'Casey's misogynist picture of dangerous female fan-worship edging into tragedy, but a woman who has been used and emotionally damaged by the cause - ordered, from the age of 15, to flirt with British soldiers and lure them to their deaths.

It is one thing for the Irish likely lads (played with a lovely, fleet comic timing by Michael Colgan and Tom Flaherty) to plan a getaway from the stagnant, inward-looking world of the expat Irish pub. But is it possible for someone with Una's CV to sever her agonising ties with the past?

If O'Casey's play elides anti-heroic comedy and tragic feeling, Croghan's piece less successfully lurches between broad sitcom and moments of heightened emotion that feel rather engineered. In Anthony Clark's skilled and entertaining production, there are some nice sequences demonstrating the ghastliness of bed-sit life (cloths used for washing armpits instantly re-employed for serving the emetic breakfast fry-up) and the panic of our two reluctant explosives-harbourers is paced to perfection. The play, though, adds up to less than the sum of its awkwardly fitted parts.

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