This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.
Writer: Frank McGuinness
Director: Conall Morrison
Composer: Kevin Doherty
Musical Director: Conor Linehan
The Day family’s charmed existence in Donegal is coming to an end. One time Irish country music legend Irene Day (Siobhan McCarthy) no longer pulls in the crowds and under the mismanagement of her husband Conor (Frank Laverty), her and her family are facing ruination. Their bar and restaurant, bought with earnings during the good times, are failing and soon to be forgotten along with Irene’s musical endeavours. Hope arrives in the form of Jackie (Killian Donnelly), Irene and Conor’s somewhat prodigal son, who has made a name for himself as a singer stateside. With Jackie unwilling to put his hand in his pocket and his family unwilling to ask directly for help, they set about a complex dance of wills as they try their very best to avoid tackling their respective problems head on.
Billed as a “musical play” Donegal has all the elements of a standard musical, barring large scale dance routines. The musical numbers are in no short supply and neither is the onstage talent. Conall Morrison’s direction brings a refreshing zest to Donegal and utilises the entire Abbey stage. The large ensemble cast each get their time to shine and the family dynamics are at times a treat behold, from the safety of the stalls. Ironically, the most unpleasant of characters, matriarch Magdalene (Deirdre Donnelly), is arguably the most likeable. This is in no small part due to Donnelly’s impressive performance of the ever cutting granny who never has a good word to say about anyone. Considering most of the characters have multiple unpleasant traits, Magdalene is the best at being bad.
The set mostly works well, allowing the action to shift from speech to music easily while also providing a realistic sense of place. Scene changes from interior to exterior locations happen frequently and are indicated by an ever changing backdrop which hangs atop the musicians. Unfortunately, the images used make it look like a giant screensaver at times and tends to date the piece.
McGuiness is a stalwart of the Irish literary scene, with an impressive and well-rounded back catalogue across the forms. His greatness is here in the sharp dialogue and cutting speeches, which provide endless laughs through their callous nature. The performers and musicians are, unquestionably, excellent and some of the original songs are simply beautiful. Still, there is something unbalanced about Donegal. The overall piece, at just under 3 hours, is far too long and has some superfluous characters and unnecessary plotlines, such as Jackie’s sexuality and Liam’s mental health. Although there are some great hits in Donegal there are plenty of wide misses too.
Runs until 19 November as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival | Image: contributed