Friday, February 17, 2017

Ardnaglass on the Air - rural living brings hilarity to the airwaves (C21 Theatre, Lyric + NI tour)

Take one ramshackle shed with a Yagi antenna in the corner of a busy farmyard. Add a muck-covered pig farmer who lives with his mum and a local barmaid who dreams of escaping her drunken husband for the bright lights of London. Throw in a one hour long community radio show which celebrates the quaint and quirky ways of rural living. And sit down and relax to enjoy an hour and a quarter of solid entertainment from C21 Theatre’s latest production, Ardnaglass on the Air.

Margaret Mary-Rose O’Boyle isn’t afraid of uttering a string of jaw-dropping double entendres that are nearly as dirty as her co-presenter’s overalls. Jo Donnelly gently steers her character between an impetuous tottering flirt to empathetic friend, and manages to give definition to the peaks and troughs of emotion that might otherwise have become a blur of excitement.

Sitting behind the mixing desk – do pirate stations really use DJ mixers to control their mics? – Marty Maguire drives the desk and guides the listeners through the local news, adverts, live breaking stories and a weather forecast that emphasises the latter rather than the former. Yet as the one act play heads towards its conclusion, Hugh Francis O’Donnell’s vulnerability emerges.

Convention is thrown out the window barn door. While some curious extra excuses for movement around the studio have been invented, presenting a radio show is a very sedentary pursuit. (Hugo Duncan is the one exception to this rule.) The big gestures of theatre aren’t available. But Stephen Kelly’s direction has created a rich palette of gestures and facial expressions that construct an intimate performance in the diminutive set. Casting a real-life couple adds a frisson of sexual tension to the on-air chemistry and certainly helps add a touch of realism to the scowls and disappointing glares when things go wrong on air.

As a townie, I feared that I was sitting laughing at a whimsical piss-take that was unfairly caricaturing culchie living. But rural dwellers up in the big smoke for the show confirmed afterwards that they recognised much about their friends and neighbours in the Jimmy Kerr’s script.

Ardnaglass on the Air is a hoot. It’s outrageously funny, full of vernacular and very entertaining. The only pothole in its farmyard is the ending which Jimmy Kerr has had to adapt from previous three-handed versions of the play. Instead of going out with a set-crushing bang or a surprise entrance it instead slows right down and fades out rather than keeping the energy up right the way to the pips.

You can catch Ardnaglass on the Air in the Lyric Theatre until Saturday 18 February before it tours through Armagh, Coalisland, Newtownabbey, Cushendall, Newry, Limavady, Lisburn, Downpatrick and finishes in Jimmy’s home village of Moneyglass.

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