Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! at Cork Opera House

Philadelphia, Here I Come! opened at Cork Opera House this week. Grainne McGuinness went to see it, here's what she thought...
Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! at Cork Opera House

Cast and Crew of Brian Friel's Philadelphia Here I Come! which is running at Cork Opera House until October 16. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

I IMAGINE the weight of expectation lay heavy on all involved in the production of Philadelphia, Here I Come! as it opened this week at Cork Opera House.

In normal times, there would be plenty of anticipation surrounding the first professional production of the play in Cork in 30 years. But to be the first major dramatic production in the venue since Covid-19 shut the doors on live performance more than 18 months ago cranks the pressure to the next level.

It is said the best performers are those who can bear up and deliver under pressure, and everyone involved in this Patrick Talbot production of the Brian Friel classic has more than delivered. 

There was an enthusiastic buzz in the Opera House as people took their seats but the extended applause at the end was for much more than the return of live performance.

Theatre-goers stood and cheered in acknowledgement of a beautifully acted and tightly-paced production that held the audience in its grip throughout.

Alex Murphy (Conor in The Young Offenders) was the highest profile name when the play was announced, and he delivers a charismatic physical performance as Private Gar, with the eye rarely leaving him as he moves about the stage.

Dressed in a flowing shirt tucked into fitted trousers, he whirls with panache as he becomes an American dame of Gar’s imagination, and curls into himself with excruciating embarrassment as public Gar loses courage during a conversation with his girlfriend’s father.

His performance dovetails with Shane O’Regan’s naturally more restrained public Gar, with the two at times moving in tandem across the set. O’Regan embodies Gar’s yearning for emotional connection with his father, SB.

As SB, Seamus O’Rourke is a stolid, unresponsive presence throughout most of the play. At times, such as during the rosary, SB seems almost more a part of the set than a participant. This absence while present builds the audience’s sympathy for Gar, before O’Rourke brings SB to heartbreaking life during a late outburst while talking to Madge.

The performance of Catherine Walsh is also restrained, but her Madge is the emotional heart of this home and the whole play.

Praise is due too for set, lighting and sound. Repeatedly during the play I thought what a striking image it would be if a photo was taken as the performers grouped together or sat apart at various moments. 

And at key moments during Gar’s tortured evening, the steady ticking of the clock increased in volume, marking the countdown to his departure.

Cork audiences thrilled with the revival of live drama are blessed to have such a high-calibre production for its return. Welcome back theatre, you have been missed.

  • Philadelphia, Here I Come! at Cork Opera House. Tickets €28/€22 Concession now on sale at www.corkoperahouse.ie or by calling 021 4270022.

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