My Old Man

28 Sep 2006 in Dance & Drama

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, on tour 2005

Frank Kelly.

SAM MACREADIE wakes up. He’s in a hospital bed, with an oxygen mask strapped to his face and a doctor telling him he’s had a stroke. He doesn’t believe it. Surely he’s still the same man who lived life to the max, a jazz-loving musician who’d worked the cruise ships, leaving women and children in his wake, heading off in reckless pursuit of heavy drugs and hedonistic pleasure.

Inside he is all of that and, because of his mental confusion, a bit more besides. Outside, however, he’s suddenly looking like a frail old man. His arm is lifeless and he’s unsteady on his feet. It doesn’t matter that a pretty young woman can still turn his head because he has become an impotent shell of his former self.

It is this conflict between the internal and the external, the past and the present, that playwright Tom McGrath, himself a recovering stroke patient, seeks to dramatise in Magnetic North’s new play. But a character whose glory days are behind him is not an ideal protagonist to move a play forward with any sense of pace. The major event in the first half of ‘My Old Man’ is Macreadie’s arrival at his daughter’s house after being released from hospital and that’s about as dramatic as it gets.

There is the suggestion, though, of a more dynamic play wrestling to get out. The thing about Macreadie, played by a chirpy Frank Kelly (best known as Father Jack in TV’s ‘Father Ted’), is that he has lived a selfish life, neglectful of his family and interested only in his own enjoyment.

The result is a play in which not much happens and when it does, it’s hard to explain

It’s been years since he saw his daughter, Rhona (Anne Marie Timoney), and he’s seen his grandson, Neil (Alan Tripney) only once as a baby. No longer able to live in such a carefree manner, Macreadie finds his past catching up with him.

But apart from a simmering sense of resentment, Rhona and Neil give little clue about how the man’s absence has actually harmed them, if indeed it has. That the two of them are dealing drugs and that the teenager has a worrying fixation with Nazi violence suggests they have been emotionally neglected, but the playwright doesn’t make the connections clear.

The result is a play in which not much happens and when it does, it’s hard to explain – most of all Alan Tripney’s turn as an American social worker dragged home by Rhona who proceeds to lecture the family about what’s best for the old man only to disappear as quickly as he came.

None of this is helped by Minty Donald’s cluttered set, dominated by a hardly used hospital bed on a raised platform, restricting the actors’ playing space to awkward corners of Rhona’s living room.

The use of Stephen Deazley’s semi-operatic score and Sergey Jakovsky’s stately lighting in between scenes in Nicholas Bone’s production suggests a heightened style that isn’t followed through in the rest of the production. In Macreadie, McGrath has created one character in search of a play: ‘My Old Man’ isn’t it.

My Old Man can be seen at Bowmore Hall, Islay (4 October 2005); Corran Halls, Oban (6 October 2005); Ardross Community Hall (15 October 2005)

© Mark Fisher, 2005