Husbands & Hats: A Revival of Two Classic Plays

Zita Monahan as 'Earnest Young Woman' in 'A Matter of Husbands' by Ferenc Molnár. Photo: Pádraig Meehan

Zita Monahan as 'Earnest Young Woman' in 'A Matter of Husbands' by Ferenc Molnár. Photo: Pádraig Meehan

After a long absence, lunchtime theatre makes a welcome return to Galway. Hosted by Kelly’s Bar and featuring contributions from Galway’s most dynamic theatre companies, the opening season proffered an exciting range of work. A combination of factors, including low overheads and cheap cover charges, mean that companies tend to make bold decisions in their choice of material for a lunchtime slot. New writing and obscure chamber plays are given a platform, reinforcing the idea that diversity and lunchtime theatre go hand-in-hand. Significantly, the opportunity to explore work which might usually lie outside their artistic repertoire often presents a company with a number of aesthetic challenges, with the possibility of extending their dramaturgical and performance skills. On the flipside, there’s also the possibility of a midday catastrophe. Despite the somewhat casual circumstances, lunchtime theatre can be a good indicator of a company’s metal; it sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Happily, Mephisto Theatre Company rise to the challenge with consummate flair and aplomb with a revival of two classic plays, A Matter of Husbands, written by the Hungarian Ferenc Molnar in 1923, and The Lost Silk Hat, penned by Lord Dunsany and published the same year WWI broke out. It’s a delightfully eccentric double-bill, performed by three female actors, Caroline Lynch, Zita Monahan and Emma Grady, who take on a variety of roles, vacillating between genders, accents, and social class.

Molnar’s play is a pleasingly predictable comedy of manners: a plain and rather guileless housewife suspects her husband of indulging in salacious assignations with a flamboyant actress. When confronted, the unfazed diva puts her dramatic skills to use, employing an impressive blend of pained incredulity, psychological insight, and female cunning to successfully dupe the wronged woman.

Caroline Lynch and Emma O'Grady in 'Husbands and Hats: A revival of two classic plays'. Photo: Pádraig MeehanA Matter of Husbands is a gratifying lesson in the art of eloquence and persuasion. It concludes with the wife embracing the actress in a display of jubilant gratitude, convinced that the clues which roused her suspicions were deliberately planted by her husband in a bid to provoke her jealousy and rekindle her passion for him. The familiarity of this time-worn scenario is an integral part of the pleasure the play gives. It’s an old-fashioned pleasure perhaps. Based on the fulfillment of a formulaic convention, it runs counter to contemporary artistic trends which tend to favour an aesthetic which privileges subversion, shock, instability, and the unpredictable. Given how prevalent the deconstructionist artistic approach is and how generic the strategic tropes which it has spawned have become, this ‘old-fashioned’ mode of engagement felt fresh, liberating even.

A slap-stick interlude between plays made the transition seamless and The Lost Silk Hat developed on the charming, absurd tone. Lord Dunsany was a top-notch fantasy writer and though The Lost Silk Hat is scant on plot, its labyrinthine, ornate use of language transforms a trite fix into a substantial metaphysical quandary. Too proud to return to his lover’s flat to fetch his hat, and too ashamed to walk about London without it, the Caller approaches a number of passers-by with the aim of persuading them to carry out the awkward errand for him. Monahan and Lynch take on a range of roles here, moving between varying physical registers with precision and palpable enjoyment, conjuring an array of stock characters including the Poet, the Policeman, and the Clerk. The combination of archetypal characters, hyperbolic text, and the exasperating circumstances of both plays was redolent of both the Commedia dell’Arte tradition and the early Ealing comedies. The verbose language and the elaborate social mores demonstrate how historically bound notions of subjectivity are, and it was a real joy to encounter a formulation of human behaviour and social interactions which contrast with contemporary interpretations.

Of course that joy is largely contingent upon the skill of the performers: reviving plays of a farcical bent is a risky undertaking and in less adept hands this double-bill might easily have been a cringe-worthy flop. Mephisto are experienced enough to realise that light-hearted drama requires precision and focus. The artistic pay-off might not be as profound as that which other, weightier, genres provide, which is perhaps why young companies tend to produce heavy plays with dark themes. However, comedy is by no means an easy option, and the fact that both shows were executed with apparent effortlessness is an understated victory for Mephisto. My only gripe is that Lynch’s actress appeared to be wearing no make-up, which is unthinkable frankly: more slap please. Apart from that cosmetic complaint (boom boom), a most enjoyable lunch hour was had. I take my hat off to you ladies, keep on reviving!


  • Review
  • Theatre

Husbands & Hats: A Revival of Two Classic Plays by Ferenc Molnar & Lord Dunsany

19 - 21 April, 2010

Produced by Mephisto Theatre Company
In Lunchtime Theatre at Kelly’s Bar, Galway

'Husbands and Hats': A revival of two classic plays

A Matter of Husbands by Ferenc Molnar, with Zita Monahan and Caroline Lynch

The Lost Silk Hat by Lord Dunsany, with Emma O’Grady, Zita Monahan and Caroline Lynch

Lighting and Sound: Bernard Higgins