REVIEW: The Dead School Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

Four star rating Pat McCabe s adaptation of his own novel depicts 70s Ireland as a dark, twisted place, stalked by mental illness and haunted by the past. Repressive, traditional values cannon into the individualism and liberalism of educated, pot-smoking

Four star rating

Pat McCabe's adaptation of his own novel depicts 70s Ireland as a dark, twisted place, stalked by mental illness and haunted by the past.

Repressive, traditional values cannon into the individualism and liberalism of educated, pot-smoking, rock 'n' roll-loving youth with mind-splintering effect.

Livin' Dred theatre company grasps McCabe's surreally comic tone and runs wild with it, a five-strong cast manically move between multiple roles of all ages and genders, switching with crazed energy from past to present, from outside to inside the minds of its two protagonists - while maintaining the rich complexity of the central themes.


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The opening section pitches us into the disturbed mind of formerly upright schoolmaster Raphael Bell, as the sorrows and triumphs of his past are enacted by the past pupils in his head.

A parallel storyline describes the past of young, liberal teacher Malachy Dudgeon, whose fateful decision to hold an outdoor poetry class leads to the death of a pupil and the mental disintegration of both men.

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There's a swathe of Gaelic spoken and culturally-specific lines that fly over non-Irish heads. And the clash of teaching styles between Dudgeon and Bell could have been better defined.

But thankfully the piece's, intense, disturbing atmosphere is leavened by dark, quirky comedy. At one point, Daniel O'Connell pops up to wish Dudgeon well in his job, at another, his mother's lover apologises: "Sorry for riding your ma." When Bell proposes to his sweetheart, he asks: "How would you like to be buried with my people?"

Nick Lee is affecting as the ultimately weak Dudgeon and Sean Campion gives a deeply moving portrait of Bell's madness, embodying the psychological effect of the social upheaval around him.

Already haunted by a dead father and son, he is broken by his brittle inflexibility, insistence on rigid standards of duty and obedience to church and authority, and total inability to deal with an Ireland of heroin, abortions and single mothers.

McCabe's suggestion that the 70s was when Ireland recalibrated its sense of itself is musically conveyed by contrasting Bell's love of warbling tenors with Dudgeon's preference for Van Morrison.

Until March 13.

Bridget Galton

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