The Bother with the Brother

Aidan Jordan in 'The Bother with the Brother'. Photo: Ann  Russell

Aidan Jordan in 'The Bother with the Brother'. Photo: Ann Russell

This is the Mylesian Year – the centenary of the birth of Brian O’Nolan, also known as Myles na gCopaleen, author of the tales of The Brother which appeared regularly in his column in The Irish Times. We don’t think of Brian O’Nolan in the first instance in connection with the theatre – it was his journalism and novels which were the foundation of his reputation under various noms de plume – but O’Nolan wrote for the stage and dramatizations of his work by others have appeared regularly.

In Val O’Donnell’s adaptation, The Bother with the Brother relates the events of a dysfunctional Christmas in the boarding house where the narrator and his notorious off-stage brother live. The genius of O’Nolan’s Brother columns was that they never featured the title character, only the fly-on-the-wall, garrulous sibling who relates incidents from their lives in a passive deadpan, rising to shock and indignation in The Brother’s defense. We hear nothing other than through the filter of the narrator whose humble claims to inferiority in all spheres to his putatively brilliant and confident brother excuse him from identification with any of the views expressed. Maintaining the fiction on the stage gives the stories an added dimension and presents a greater challenge.

Director Ann Russell and actor Aidan Jordan are working with material not used previously in stage adaptations, but still they labour against the memory of Eamon Morrissey’s timeless embodiment of our storyteller. Even those in this country too young to have seen Morrissey on the stage will most likely have caught his act on television. Jordan puts his personal signature on the role by avoiding the oleaginous familiarity of Morrissey’s character, veering closer to the perpetually bewildered naïf. However whether it is finally a limitation of the actor or the script, somehow The Brother emerges as more tedious and bullying, and finally less funny, than I recall.

Also not nearly enough is made of the outrageous comic possibilities of the revolt of the other denizens of the digs, who, after having their drink and other festive activities monitored and controlled by the mighty Brother, have sworn a pact to take themselves off in future to a hotel in Arklow for their Christmas. The immediate revenge, we are told, is their leader impersonating the overbearing Brother by sporting a Hitler moustache while giving the Nazi salute, but little play is given on the stage to this frogmarching performance. The cheerless minginess of life in the digs is captured by the combined efforts of Maree Kearn’s design and Colm Maher’s lighting.

Bewley’s lunchtime theatre has become a revered institution, and it usually handles the tricky mix of food and theatre unobtrusively – but the performance I attended was marked by delays, a terribly overheated room and overcrowding, which made for a grumpy audience before the performance began. Playing to a house of elderly tourists, Jordan was severely tested as a performer, and his accommodation to the audience may have slowed his delivery, which was otherwise rendered in a perfectly chimed Dublin accent. The Brother would have been proud.

Christina Hunt Mahony

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Bother with the Brother by Val O’Donnell, adapted from Myles na gCopaleen

26 Sept - 15 Oct, 2011

Produced by Whirligig Theatre Co, in association with Bewleys Café Theatre
In Bewleys Café Theatre

Directed by Ann Russell

Design: Maree Kearn

Lighting Design: Colm Maher

With: Aidan Jordan