Beehive Theatre Co presents 'Moll' by John B. Keane.

Beehive Theatre Co presents 'Moll' by John B. Keane.

Beehive Theatre Co presents 'Moll' by John B. Keane.

Beehive Theatre Co presents 'Moll' by John B. Keane.

It is not until well into the second half of John B. Keane’s Moll that a world without a priest’s wall is mentioned at all, and that is a brief reference to the poor in Peru. In Keane’s parodying of a rural presbytery in Kerry, the incumbent priests’ obsessive preoccupations are about the size of their dinner portions, their waistlines and position in the hierarchy; there is no mention of the struggle facing the populace of an impoverished Ireland of the 1970s. Dingle’s Beehive Theatre Company go for farce in their emphasis of a community’s outrageous selfishness and insularity.

A Father Ted-ish triumvirate of Canon Pratt (Malcolm George) and his two curates (Donal Ó Héaleí and Michael Ó Cinnéide) search for that holy grail of the Catholic presbytery: a good housekeeper. Such a one must be frugal but at the same time has to massage both the ego and appetite of the Canon. Before an interview panel of the three priests, prospective candidates Miss Andover (Pauline Mannix) and Moll (Kathleen Reen) compete for the post. 'Moll' presented by Beehive.Moll knows how to play the game: she wins the job and proceeds to take over the lives of the three priests and the running of the parish. Stoking up the Canon, starving the more impotent curates and raising sufficient money from clergy-run bingo games to found a new school (and provide herself with a pension), Moll creates for herself an unassailable position where her financial future is secured. She is virtually canonised by an impressed visiting bishop. A mighty matriarch is born.

It is hard to see where John B. stands in director Wendola Rosenberg Polak’s light-hearted production. All the priests here are portrayed as inept, greedy, impotent, and lazy: laughing stock, all of them. Is it a work that argues that the Catholic clergy of the 1970s are gullible fools who are easily led? Does Keane propose that Irish society is unofficially run by matriarchs, despite the fact that the state at this time did not really recognise labour rights for women until forced to later by the EEC? Or is it an opportunity for Keane to create a play about a powerful and enterprising woman to be developed later in his Big Maggie? In emphasising the comedic aspects of the script, Beehive certainly allow the audience to make up its own mind about whether Keane actually intended any serious social commentary.

The company create an appropriately sterile and claustrophobic presbytery with their mahogany-dressed dining room set design of depressing flock wall-paper, refectory table, Bakelite phone and domineering Sacred Heart. Illustrating moments in the script, the soundscape of period No. 1 hit songs cleverly highlights the contrast between the staid priestly existence and a more youthful and dynamic world emerging outside. Malcolm George is a squeaky, patronising and thoroughly dislikeable Canon who deserves his comeuppance at the hands of the superbly stentorian Eddie Hutchinson who flounces proudly across the stage in candy-floss pink Bishop’s regalia. Donal Ó 'Moll' presented by Beehive.Héaleí as Father Brest handles his character’s rise in riches well with the most controlled voice-projection of the group and he is ably supported by Michael Ó Cinnéide in his difficult role as Father Lorcan, the intellectually-challenged curate who will always be at the bottom of the heap.

At the heart of this production, the presbytery and Keane’s play is the housekeeper. Kathleen Reen’s excellently understated, stolid and slightly sardonic creation of a rather sinister Moll shows the benefit of effective casting by this community based company. Reen develops the character by giving rein to the desperation that must be felt by any marginalised worker, particularly a single woman, with so little security or rights. With a strong North Kerry accent (perhaps purposely absent elsewhere onstage) she steers skilfully around the pitfalls of solely searching for laughs. So her dryly witty Moll becomes a character from Friel or Yeats: the indigenous Celt challenging and subverting the forces of Catholic interlopers.

Beehive Theatre Company choose their script and cast carefully for the job that they do. This production of Moll is very safe and does not ask enormous questions of anyone but is accessible, popular and provides a good night out.

Matthew Harrison

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Moll by John B. Keane

Produced by Beehive Theatre Company
In Beehive Theatre, Cúilín, Dingle

Directed by Wendola Rosenberg Polak

Design: Malcolm George

With: Donal Ó Héaleí, Michael Ó Cinnéide, Malcolm George, Pauline Mannix, Kathleen Reen, Eddie Hutchinson