Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens

Company D presents 'Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens' by Paul Godfrey.

Company D presents 'Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens' by Paul Godfrey.

Director David Scott’s interpretation of Paul Godfrey’s Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens, is worthy of two superlatives attributed by Godfrey to W.H. Auden’s description of Benjamin Britten’s music: "Mercurial and eloquent."

Godfrey's narrative is not as gleaned from interviews and witnesses as may be imagined - he wrote the skeleton of the play out of an interview with Britten’s sister, but imagined the machinations of the characters’ relationships for his dialogue. But his exploration of talent and ambition, friendship and love, among talented thinking people is the essential core of the work. He gives freedom to the play's themes and plot in a representative, ethereal way that invites with the charm of universal truths.

Donna BradleyThemes include the exposition of legacy as much as the exposition of human emotions. Beth, Britten’s sister, played with fitting fineness by Donna Bradley, is the alter ego of her brother. She bemoans not having the time to write. She would like to write but she has five children and Benjamin to look after. Meanwhile, Britten would like to have a child. But he is a gifted composer and gay. Could her five children be five good literary novels? Could his numerous compositions be an amalgam of talented children who would contribute positively to the future of the world?

This examination of legacy, explored through Britten and his sister, is very beautifully conveyed in monologue and dialogue – giving as much importance to artistic progeny as it does to human procreation, supporting a purist notion of creativity that is inclusive of all creation and nurturing. It is not hidden in Godfrey’s ascribed narratives that children may not threaten talent but rather chain the potential of great achievement. Beth says as much when she relays, in monologue, her ambitions to write against her responsibility to her children.

Mark McAuley's Britten captures the refined manners of a young middle-class man, who, destined for greatness, is initially ambivalent and nervous, but whose striving never falters because he loves music as much as he loves life. McAuley is superb in his adoption of Britten's emotions, from nervous contemplation as a young man to an artist of achievement, who reflects the confidence of his talent and success. McAuley’s body language changes infinitesimally as the drama unfolds, from a slightly hunched and jittery disposition to one that is relaxed and moving freely by the end of the play.

Ian Meehan as W.H. Auden inhabits the persona of his protagonist with fluid intensity. Auden’s encouragement and admiration for Britten, that is both love and jealousy, is honoured by the actor with a measured wit and weariness, one suspects to be cannily graphic of its subject.

Peter Pears is played by Colm Kenny-Vaughan: another strong portrayal of a gentle man who loves, and loves music. The on-stage chemistry between McAuley and Vaughan is seamless and charged, and credits the casting choices as much as it does the actors’ consummation of their roles.

Atmospheric lighting enhances many scene changes. However it is not used to its fullest. Better scene changes could have been effected had the lighting been used to shade or black out certain parts of the stage. (For instance, when Britten, Pears and Auden go to America, the Suffolk sitting room should have been shaded out or at least camouflaged with lighting.) There are odd and infrequent moments, also, in the play when the actors increase pace and fervour and in the process, rush dialogue. However, these are small sacrifices for such skilled writing, directing, acting and interpretation.

An abiding subtext in Godfrey’s play is that romantic love between two people is irrelevant to their sexual orientation, something that is now thankfully increasingly recognised in our modern world. To respect and care for the well-being of another is purer than and irrespective of chemical attraction: Company D bring this message to fruition on stage as well as exploiting to successful achievement the many more layers in Godfrey’s work.

Breda Shannon

  • Review
  • Theatre

Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens by Paul Godfrey

29 Jan - 2 Feb, 2013

Produced by Company D
In T36

Directed by David Scott

With: Mark McAuley, Ian Meehan, Colm Kenny-Vaughan, Donna Bradley and Stephanie Behan