After being recently deserted by their alcoholic father and long abandoned by their mother, Jacob and his brother Lucas try to maintain a low profile as they avoid detection by social services. Jacob (Stephen O’Leary) is about to turn 18 and feels if they can lie low until his birthday then he will be able to obtain custody of his younger brother Lucas (Finian Duff Lennon). They plot and plan their daily routine but Jacob is clearly frayed by the stress of the situation. He is helped by neighbour and friend Terry (Karen Kelly), who also provides a somewhat warped mother figure to Lucas. When an incident at school leads to potential trouble for the brothers, their mother reappears on the scene and throws everything into chaos.
BAKRU Productions, in association with The New Theatre, present a new version of Michael Marshall’s Happy Birthday Jacob. This revised version follows on from the success of their earlier production, which itself received positive reviews. The script has been further developed with notable changes, while the cast and crew have also had some turnaround.
Laura Bowler takes over the direction in this production from Marshall and uses her skill to get the most from the performers. While the role of Terry (Karen Kelly) is rightly played for laughs and adds the required humour to the piece, this is balanced against tender and angst ridden performances from the cast, notably O’ Leary and Duff Lennon. The conflicted mother, Mary (Michelle Costello), is portrayed as almost intangible, allowing the audience to feel the mistrust that her son’s must feel. Bowler pushes without going too far, resulting in absolutely compelling performances.
Marshall’s writing flair lies in the intimate everyday elements of the story, in particular the repartee between the brothers and their complex bond. There is much joy and pain in the throwaway moments between Jacob and Lucas; moments that don’t appear to be important until they are.
The thoughtful set by Ciara Murnane tells a story beyond the unfolding drama. The wear and tear of family life can be seen, coupled with the distress of the boys’ experience. Bill Woodland’s sound and lighting design strengthens the overall production value while oscillating flawlessly between heightened moments of fun and despair. Complementing the writing, these almost unseen elements add to the wholeness of the piece and deliver an experience that is more than the sum of its parts.
Commendable in this production is the very fact that even after a successful first run the team decided they could make further improvements. This has certainly paid off and the result is a very strong play that feels polished and well-constructed. In particular, the ending now feels more complete and provides greater closure for the audience, though not perhaps for the characters. There is more certainty in the story itself, which was good to begin with, but now comes together more distinctly.
For those who may have seen earlier productions of Happy Birthday Jacob this new version is certainly worth checking out. For those without any prior experience of this excellent play, get a ticket and enjoy 90 minutes of talent and entertainment.
Runs until 26 August 2017 at The New Theatre, Dublin.
Note: Happy Birthday Jacob contains strong language and may not be suitable for very young audiences.
Jacob: Stephen O’Leary
Lucas: Finian Duff Lennon
Terry: Karen Kelly
Mary: Michelle Costello
Writer: Michael Marshall
Director: Laura Bowler
Producer and Set Designer: Ciara Murnane
Costume Designer: Mary Sheehan
Lighting and Sound Designer: Bill Woodland