The Quare Fellow

by BRENDAN BEHAN

REVIEWED by SHAUN TRAYNOR

This is a play about the last hours of a condemned man’s life. It is not an issue play, it is a play about humanity, how the event is viewed and imbued by fellow inmates. The Quare Fellow doesn’t appear in the play but another prisoner to be executed “wins” a reprieve; we have, therefore, a cue into the human condition, is he joyful? Within hours he tries to hang himself.

This is a profound play about the penal system, a lasting international tribute to humanism which happens to be set in Ireland. Forget Behan the myth, the drunk who couldn’t stand up, forget all the outrageous stories, here is a writer to be totally proud of, this is a beautifully crafted play; few playwrights of today could draw so many individual characters so precisely, move action at such a steady, confident pace, this is also real story-telling.

Step forward now the director, the modest but brilliant Kathy Burke. What an enterprise she took on, yet each second of the play, each tiny scene is directed with such precision, it was almost at times like a Noh play.

For her the actors (thirteen male actors, a large cast by modern standards,) were beautifully woven into Behan’s magnificent chamber piece; interesting that none of them was allowed to shine the one above another - although all are feted individual stars; interesting that the director’s control kept them all inside the play; she is a strong warder.

It is to the writer that she pays tribute, every second of the play is a heartbeat for Brendan Behan – what a genius!

Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn until 8th May 04
Box Office 0207328 1000