Theatre review: Brendan Behan’s Women at Pentameters Theatre

“I’m not a writer who drinks – I’m a drinker who writes,” said Brendan Behan. In spite of his rough manner, tatterdemalion appearance and constant state of inebriation, it seems that Behan had a message for women.

Tom O’Brien’s story illuminates the poet’s relationship with his wife. He was from a political working-class family, but he was clever and educated, a member of the IRA which led to time in Borstal and prison in England, the background for much of his work.

Beatrice was a posh girl, daughter of the famous painter Cecil Ffrench-Salkeld. She was his partner, his inspiration and his carer until he died of diabetes due to chronic alcoholism. She managed to keep him safe during his most creative years, when he wrote The Hostage and The Quare Fellow, but was unable to control his life when he became a household name mixing with the rich and famous.

She put up with his womanising – including his affair with 18-year-old Shelagh Delaney (author of A Taste of Honey), who also adored him – and his occasional lapses into homosexuality.

The play begins during his sojourn at the Chelsea Hotel, in New York, in 1963, when Beatrice arrives unexpectedly only to find him with his latest inamorata Valerie and this leads to scenes of comedy as well as passion between the three of them. Behan was a master of the one-liner – “The Lord giveth and somebody else taketh it away” and “The Lord says ‘Comfort the Afflicted. I afflict the comfortable.’”

John Dunne has done a great job adapting and directing and has cast it perfectly.

Matthew Ward, in a shaggy wig, is almost a reincarnation of Behan and, as we have the recorded voice of the man himself coming over the tannoy, it is difficult to tell when the recorded voice ends and Ward’s begins. The lovely Fiona McGahren is a fiery Irish beauty as Beatrice and Amanda Lara Kay a stunning blonde as Val. All act their socks off. An interesting play and great performances all round.

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Rating: Four stars

Until July 20.