Little Gem

‘Little Gem’ is an adults only, three hander play by Dublin playwright Elaine Murphy. It was first produced at Dublin’s 2008 Fringe Festival – the year before publication – and has been in continuous production since its debut. It has won several major UK awards.

This extremely funny, but coarse two-and-a-half-hour playful riot is the story of love, sex, birth and salsa classes told by three generations of extraordinary women. It can be seen at the Irish Players’ Theatre within the Irish Club at 61 Townsend Road, Subiaco each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7.30 pm until the 28th of August; there is one matinée on Sunday 22nd at 2.00 pm. Some of the shows are almost booked out and when the word gets around, the remaining seats will soon disappear.

The set:                Is simple. A completely black stage with Granddad’s high-backed, moquette armchair. It faces the rear of the stage and although he is attended to by the family, we never see him. A loaded washing line stretches across the whole width of the stage.

In front of the stage at auditorium floor level is a table with a white tablecloth and two chairs. This is the home’s dining table and later a café table.

Props:                   The ironing table and a black leather office chair are cleverly used as extra props such as shopping trolley and baby’s pram.

Sound by Josie Hacking was in perfect sync with the lighting changes by John Woolrych. Most of the sound and lighting effects were brief 10 second snatches, that were complex but perfect mood setters.

In a blue-collar Dublin household live three generations of women. The curtains rise to show the flighty daughter who is in her early twenties, Amber (Shannon Murphy). Amber lives life to the excess; she explains how she is arranging a party to show off to her family and friends, ‘dodgy’ Paul, the man of her dreams.

Her nervous stressed mother, Lorraine (Hazel Beirne) has been separated from Amber’s dad, and her waste of space husband Ray, for more than a year.

The matriarchal grandmother, Kay (Caroline McDonnell) is a strict but loving person, but with her husband James disabled by a stroke a year ago, she struggles twenty-four hours a day to look after him. She is missing his love and fun company. To make matters worse, Kay suffers from an uncomfortable medical condition.

Several months go by and life for everyone changes.

Can a normal stable lifestyle ever return?

Director Suzannah Churchman has won many awards, so not surprisingly her direction of this play is inventive, precise and with such a great cast, most memorable. The three actors have completely captured the nature and idiosyncrasies of the three generations, and how they react with each other.

The whole play is presented as a set of short monologues, with each giving a vignette of the various aspects of their public and private personas. These monologues are spoken directly to the audience as though we are friends – at times, very intimate friends – so eye contact by the actor with the audience, is essential to draw them in. I suspect that one of the actors, although most impressive with delivery and body language, has not had to deliver such a monologue before, as she was a little apprehensive at looking up and straight at the audience directly. I know this can be very difficult, but just keep looking along the seating rows and don’t spend too long on any one individual.

The script is exceptional, written in concise and luminous dialogue. The remarkable construction of the verbal exchange and the sub links to various topics should be studied by anyone considering scriptwriting.

This play is exceptionally funny, filled with recognisable life experiences, however, the occasional bursts of ‘language’ may upset some patrons; there again, some may learn what modern life is all about behind closed doors.

Caroline is a born comedian and had the whole audience in an uproar the seconds later there would be a poignant passage as the girls trusted us with their innermost secrets.

Caroline has been nominated three times for a Finlay acting award, let us hope this performance will bring the award home for her.

Fine directing, acting, teching and a wonderful script. It is certainly worth going out on a cold wet night to see this.