Currently in preview at the Gate Theatre is the stage adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s book ‘The Snapper’. The official opening is on Wednesday 20th June. Theatrical etiquette rules that reviewers don’t review plays until opening night. Preview shows are intended to allow the director and the cast to iron out any last minute issues with the play. I am going to ignore that rule – for the simple reason that I paid full whack for my preview ticket (no freebies for regular audience members). As the show I saw, was the fourth preview performance, if they are not about 99% stage ready by this point then they never will be.
So how did the evening go. Well it was entertaining.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to adaptations is that the book is better than the film or stage adaptation. ‘The Snapper’ was written by Roddy Doyle in 1990 (part 2 of the Barrytown Trilogy) which tells the tale of 20 year old Sharon Rabbite, and the effect her unexpected pregnancy has on her own life, as well as that of her Dublin family. It was adapted into a film in 1993. This film has become a classic, which regularly features in the Top 10 Irish movies list. The film was directed by Stephen Frears and starred Tina Kellegher and Colm Meaney (as Sharon, and her Dad Jimmy).
As the film is so iconic and beloved, it was always going to be a difficult task to match the film’s impact. Having Roddy Doyle write the stage adaptation was an obvious advantage – who better to create these characters. Doyle was seated in front of me in the theatre last night, with pen in hand.
This latest version wasn’t entirely successful, however.
Part of the problem is that having read the book, and seen the film on several occasions, it is the film version that is ingrained on my consciousness. It might be unfair to compare the new cast with the old, but I couldn’t help it.
More worryingly is how dated the story appears in the latest adaptation. I am not talking about the set, or the soundtrack – we all know that this is set in the 1980s. It is the idea that in 2018, a story about a twenty year old getting pregnant by a middle aged Georgie Burgess, by means of date rape, would at least acknowledge it as such? Is Georgie Burgess a rapist? If not, then at least alter the script slightly to indicate that Sharon had willingly consented to the drunken sex act. This is not clarified. So we are left in limbo. It appears that she had sex with Burgess without any recollection of the encounter. Therefore Sharon has been raped, right? A quarter of a century ago, such an omission would have been standard. Not in the present day. Having been the foreman of a jury on a serial rape trial in recent months, I am slightly more attuned to the issue of informed consent in plays like these. This is all glossed over, and as such remains the elephant in the room.
You can also tell by the fact that Sharon threatens to leave home after a fight with her father, that this was written in a different era. In 2018 a supermarket shelf stacker would never be able to afford a home of her own.
The central performances were strong. Simon Delaney as Jimmy Rabbite is very enjoyable, particularly when he is matched up with Hilda Fay as his long suffering wife. Hazel Clifford is convincing as Sharon, capturing the fear, and excitement and resilience of the character. The stand out performance was given by Kate Gilmore as Sharon’s best friend Jackie. She was hilarious as the foul mouthed side-kick. Simon O’Gorman as the sleazy Burgess is suitably creepy.
Obviously it is unfair to judge juvenile performances by adult standards, so the fact that the Sharon’s younger sisters cannot be heard from halfway back in the theatre is an issue with the direction, and not the girls playing the twins. Either mic them up so that their lines are audible, or change the roles to non-speaking parts please? It is quite annoying as they are on stage quite a lot. Sharon’s friend Mary is played by an adult. Her voice also gets lost. Project dear. You’re an actor.
The set was well designed and very mobile. The chaos of the Rabbite family life is expressed clearly. It was good to watch a play about a working class family where they are not portrayed as victims, or as noble heroes of circumstance – which is a major bug bear of mine when I see plays about Dublin life. Rather they are an decent, foul-mouthed people living ordinary lives.
Despite the misgivings mentioned, ‘The Snapper’ is an amusing, and diverting piece of theatre. While it didn’t merit the standing ovation it received – in my opinion anyway – it is was an enjoyable evening.
‘The Snapper’ runs at the Gate for the next three months.