Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Written by Brian Friel, Directed by Adrian Dunbar
Liverpool Playhouse, 9-13 March 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Brian Friel’s 1964 comic drama is the latest classic script to be given a revival at the Playhouse.

In the mythical Irish town of Ballybeg, young Gar O’Donnell (Ruaidhrai Conroy) dreams of swapping his stifling life of his home town for the glamorous US of A. Today he feels trapped in a dull community where repressed types get their kicks watching English girls from afar and playing draughts with the canon. Tomorrow, his plane is bound for “a vast, restless place that doesn’t give a damn about the past”. Of course, it’s not that simple, because there’s a part of the unfortunate Gar that will miss his village. Fortunately for the audience, a separate actor (Marty Rea) plays this part, so we get to hear the voice slowly driving Public Gar insane on the eve of his flight.

As Gar tries to tie-up loose ends, we meet a broad range of vivid (if stereotyped) characters. Eileen Pollock is well cast as the acerbic housekeeper, and Walter McMonagle makes a little go a long way as the emotionally distant father. Without drowning in sentimentality, Friel’s sharp-eyed script stirs pleasant contemplation of all the seemingly insignificant moments and idiosyncrasies that make people unique and special. This is an impressive directorial debut for Adrian Dunbar, while exuberant hope and tearful regret are timeless themes that have just as much poignancy today as forty years ago.