AN APPLE A DAY, Kingsgate Theatre - Review

The 'rediscovery' of a forgotten female author is always a cause for celebration and it's great to see at London Irish Rep's season that one such play features prominently. Between the late 1930s to the end of the '50s. Elizabeth Connor (the nom de plume of Una Troy) wrote 15 novels and a number of plays. One of these was a play written in 1942 called An Apple A Day which gives some insight on Irish communities in the early 20th century, as well as reaffirming some old truths about human nature.

The second play of the London Irish Rep season to be directed by Gavin McAlinden, An Apple A Day begins in the household of Dr. Richard Burke (Bernard O'Sullivan). Officially he's retired, but as the town of Carrickmahon has a hard time of 'keeping' the new, younger doctors that are meant to take over from Burke, he helps out in a locum capacity. Living with Dr. Burke are his daughters Janet and Anne (Clare Langford and Lauren McGarvey) and his housekeeper Lizzie Power (Catriona McFeeley).

Word reaches the Burke household that another one of his replacements is in the village, walking in the rain, but nobody is willing to put him up for the night. It's bad enough the replacement is in town, but rumour has it that he's from... Cork! (for non-Irish readers, the supposed 'tension' between Cork and the rest of Ireland can be compared to the so-called north/south in the UK and the stereotypes perpetuated by each). In any case, Gavin Barry, the young doctor in question, later bursts into their premesis, and things will never be the same again...

One of the nice things of this particular rep season at Kingsgate is seeing the actors play very different roles in each play, especially if they've played a smaller role previously. Previously playing Widow Quinn in The Playboy of the Western World, Clare Langford hits her stride as Janet, incensed by the 'brazen nerve' of Barry to evict them from their home, and motivating the womenfolk of the household to dissuade Barry from staying, while the rest of the town are doing their damndest as well. Beneath Janet's bluster, however, we sense the ambivalence of her actions, as Barry repeats the lesson he's learnt from Janet's father – to kill with kindess.

Every new person on stage became my new favourite character, including  Morgan Crowley's parliamentarian Sarsfield Clancy T.D., Carole Dance's 'psychic' Aunt Tottie, Blaithin McCormick's Biddy Hannigan and lest we forget Michael Mahoney's Gavin Barry, who is utterly believable as the hardened Corkman whose way of dealing with rejection is to get in first and whose attitude softens over time. If I've not mentioned everyone here, it is simply for brevity's sake, as all the cast are very watchable and deserving of praise.

Recently I've thought a lot about 'changing one's mind' –  how indecision can be a crippling thing. At the same time, being close-minded can be equally damaging and it is the women in the play who say (after much deliberation I might add) that it is no 'weakness' to change one's mind when confronted with compelling evidence to one's preconceptions.

Connor was originally from County Cork and it is possible that some of Gavin's temprement and backstory stemmed from her own personal experiences. While Connor enjoyed a modicum of sucess and renown during her career, she was no stranger to controversy. Feeling that there are no true taboo topics, her candid writing (whether it was in novels, play adaptations or movies) put her in hot water in her native Ireland, leading to some works banned, others censured by the clergy and with one film (She Didn't Say No!, which featured a mother whose children were born out of wedlock), not released until 2001 at the Irish Film Archive.

Be that as it may, An Apple A Day is a very entertaining play with much to recommend. But beneath the surface it's possible to sense Connor's indomitable spirit and her rallying cry that change in Ireland must come, even though the path to progress is likely to be met by resistance.

© Michael Davis 2016

An Apple A Day runs at Kingsgate Theatre (at Kingsgate Community Centre, Kilburn) until 9th April 2016.!productions/cpax


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