Donmar's note-perfect revival of Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Aug 15, 2012

Brian Friel's brilliant tale of an Irishman in two minds about leaving his homeland for America

What you need to know
This is the Donmar Theatre's revival of Philadelphia, Here I Come!, the play that launched the Irish dramatist Brian Friel on the international stage.

Set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, in County Donegal, the play tells the tragicomic story of Gar O'Donnell who is leaving the Ireland of his childhood to follow his American dream. On his last night, a series of visitations, real and imagined, force Gar to confront the choices he's made.
The Donmar production is directed by Lyndsay Turner who recently staged Posh at the Royal Court. Two actors – Paul Reid and Rory Keenan - play the lead character's public and private personae.

What the critics like
This production mainlines into the soul, says Tim Walker in The Daily Telegraph. The "brilliant pair" of actors who take on the lead role "turn it into something utterly mesmerising". There are also scene-stealing turns from Laura Donnelly as Gar's old flame and Valerie Lilley as a wily old housekeeper. This production "has good looks as well as heart".

Any son of a classic, impenetrable English or Irish father will find this beautiful play hard to withstand, says Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. Brian Friel bottles wonderfully that north European emotional awkwardness that some call repression, others discretion. The "nub of this marvellous play" is old Da', an incorrigible bustard seemingly impervious to emotion, played well by James Hayes.

The two hearts of the lead actors beat as one in this "note-perfect" revival of Friel's poetic play, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. This is a wistful and deeply moving production, but also "pulses with humour". Hitchings says it's "the best I've seen at the Donmar since [artistic director] Josie Rourke took over".

What they don't like
Critics have almost nothing negative to say about this Donmar production. The Telegraph's Tim Walker says it's easy to tire of "the self-indulgent mawkishness of modern Irish fiction" but somehow "Lyndsey Turner and her accomplished ensemble cast manage to overcome all of that".

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