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Carlow Little Theatre’s production of Jimmy Murphy’s The Kings of the Kilburn High Road opened up the 63rd Newry Drama Festival last night with a thoughtful depiction of life of the London Irish who moved in the early 70’s to the big smoke to make some money to bring home but as the years passed by and life passed them by in many respects they never made it back.

The King's of the Kilburn High Road by Carlow Little Theatre Society. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The King's of the Kilburn High Road by Carlow Little Theatre Society. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Six friends made the move to labour on building sites in the city and when one of them dies 25 years later we join the play with the other five giving him a send off in a Kilburn bar, even though by that stage he is already on the way to Ireland to be buried (Ironically the only one of them to make it back to Ireland!)

 By the time we meet them all but one of them are down on their luck. Businessman Joe has split from the rest a few years earlier and is depicted as a success story by the others. The play tells all their stories even the absent one, their hopes and dreams dashed as the years roll by.

Adjudicator Scott Marshall. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Adjudicator Scott Marshall. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cast

Shay: Kieran Shields

Jap: Paddy Behan

Maurteen: Larry McNally

Git: John Hickey

Joe: Paul Dunne

Director

Jo O’Donovan.

Festival Adjudicator Scott Marshall speaking on the set said “We’re in a working mans club, we are in the side room so for me we could maybe dirty it up a little. just give it a little bit of a feeling of less well off if one could use that expression. Maybe some damp on the wall or two and maybe here and there one of the pictures, instead of being perfectly balanced, a picture lop-sided or even the mirror lop-sided. Had there been lights on the stage maybe one could see, two light brackets on the stage with maybe a bulb missing or maybe if we unscrewed one of the coat hooks and let it hang down. Just a little detail to show this is a neglected area, because these men would not be in an area celebrating anywhere that was particularly good. I like the panelling and the dark green, I thought they were heavy and solid looking and that was very good”

“As we moved into the production the most impressive feature early on for me was the deliberate placing of the two main protagonists Jap and Maurteen centre stage right and left with Shay  and Git the two peripheral characters outside them, kept to the side. Very often this is a director who likes to use her centre stage very much her focus points, so that was very much highlighted right at the beginning. They were like, the two other characters were like seconds ready to intervene in a boxing match if necessary, and it was necessary before very long!

Maureen takes centre stage. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Maureen takes centre stage. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

“With Joe’s arrival again he was soon seated between the two tables here and on either side the two men again Jap and Maurteen, so this central concentration was pretty strongly pointed all the way through. Just take care that the five characters seated along here don’t just form a straight line. As I say the down right and the down left could be use a little bit more to break, to make a more attractive picture really.”

Continuing the Adjudicator said “The cast and director I thought working very hard to give us the authentic feel of the piece. Many very good moments standing out. The pointing of the line about Maurteen’s wife Maggie was well done, everything just stopped for a second as the impact of ’How’s the wife’ went and we saw the simmering tension nicely caught. Occasionally some pace was lost with slow cueing or lines not as fully secured as they might be, again one saw that in act two, for instance with just before Git’s return with the sandwiches, bit of a pause there.

“We did miss the big fight. Those of you who have seen the play before will know that finally the two main men Jap and Maurteen come to blows in a fierce on the floor full punches thrown. It’s not handbags at dawn, it’s not slaps, it’s the full thing and the two men pulling them apart. Now we didn’t have that in this. I’ve got to say we missed it, because I didn’t think that the alternative version here was quite as good with Jap being held back by Shay and Git as a weak looking Maurteen shouting as a second defence, shouting his comments instead of being involved in the fight.”

Concluding the Adjudicator commented “Very good, I hope you enjoyed seeing this rip roaring play again as much as I did and I certainly don’t think Carlow Little Theatre let themselves down with this very lively performance and I congratulate them on that.”

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