The Good Thief

Theatre Upstairs @ the Plough

Theatre Upstairs @ the Plough

Conor McPherson’s The Good Thief is a monologue that features your common-or-garden Dublin hoodlum who, paradoxically, has a heart of gold - that is, when he’s not beating the crap out of all and sundry for a pittance on behalf of his criminal boss, Joe Murray. As recounted here, McPherson’s nameless thug gets caught up in events not of his own making and which spiral out of control with both darkly humorous and tragic consequences.

The story, then, is that of how our errand-boy-cum-enforcer and all-round nasty threatener is sent on a mission to put some pressure on a business man to pay up his monthly protection money. Instead of encountering a scared fat man in a suit and tie, he is confronted by a couple of heavies (probably from the IRA), there to counteract any not-so-gentle reminders our ‘good thief’ might have been thinking of delivering.

Guns are fired. People are killed. The top and the bottom of the confused skirmish is that our eponymous and likeable goon ends up on the run from his own boss and the IRA, saddled with the wife and daughter of his original target, the business man. In essence, he has saved the lives of the mother and child. Although not necessarily a good guy, his somewhat skewed sense of morality means he is a redeemable character.

This production of The Good Thief, which was first staged in 1994, has Andy Kellegher playing the titular anti-hero. No music and no picturesque scenery accompany Kellegher. The only prop is a chair against a pitch black background and a naggin of unspecified alcohol. At various times throughout the performance, and always facing the audience, Kellegher gets up from the chair to emphasise and invigorate the action in his story.

McPherson made his name with his early dramatic monologues like The Good Thief. It has all the charm of that Tarantino-esque mixture of what nowadays is the familiarly explicit yet funny and unconsciously self-deprecating language and argot of violence from very violent individuals exaggerated to the point of cartoon and caricature. All of this is told in a perfectly appropriate Dublin idiom. It’s a measure of Kellegher’s performance and McPherson’s writing that none of this ever rings false or comes across as pseudo-American in the slightest.

The skill of the writing would be nothing, indeed, without a powerful and astute performance by Andy Kellegher. The test of any performer is that he or she be convincing and Kellegher is absolutely the real deal throughout, whether it’s in his intensely timed pauses, incongruous acts of gentleness, or his comically moral outrage at, for example, the sexual preferences and profligacy of his ex-girlfriend, Greta.

A deeply moral playwright, McPherson is always concerned with whether his central characters are redeemable or irredeemable. Aided by Andy Kellegher’s deep empathy with his role, we forget that this is a monologue and see and feel everything and everyone in our good thief’s upside-down world. When theatrical storytelling is presented this well, the humanisation of the monster, such as it is in The Good Thief, will always be credible.

Patrick Brennan was Chief Theatre Critic with the Irish Examiner from 1992-2004. He is currently writing a book on the theatre of Tom Murphy.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Good Thief by Conor McPherson

14 - 24 April, 2010

Produced by Decadent Theatre Company
In Theatre Upstairs @ the Plough

Directed by Andrew Flynn

With: Andy Kellegher