The Great Couch Rebellion

'The Great Couch Rebellion' by Philip Doherty at Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Aine McDermott

'The Great Couch Rebellion' by Philip Doherty at Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Aine McDermott

'The Great Couch Rebellion' by Philip Doherty at Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Aine McDermott

'The Great Couch Rebellion' by Philip Doherty at Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Aine McDermott

Part of the splendour of theatre is the healthy distance a performance provides an audience from their own lives and the world outside the theatre’s door. Playwright Philip Doherty has no interest in that distance. His new play, The Great Couch Rebellion, which he also directs, is a call to arms, as he attempts to startle both his characters, and his audience, from an apathetic fugue over the terms of Ireland’s indebtedness.

Despite the ‘Welcome Home, Jailbird’ sign that hangs from the wall in Adam and Eve’s sitting room – designed as portrait of suburban banality by Joe Doherty – The Great Couch Rebellion begins in quite a mirthful mood. Adam (Paul Marron), who’s been found guilty of failure to pay both his TV license bill and his household charge, had been freed from Mountjoy 45 minutes into his 60 day sentence. He’s welcomed home by his pregnant Greek wife Eve (Margarita Grillis), and the pair flirt a bit and enjoy some banter about his time in prison, though the economic reality of their situation – a mountain of bills and the millstone of unemployment – inevitably sours the homecoming. Adam is too paralysed to take control of his fate and one fears for the future. The first scene ends with Eve falling to the ground, clutching her womb.

What comes next is often strange, as well as intermittently compelling and hilarious, as Doherty parks the domestic drama in favour of a political polemic. The couple is essentially the two-headed coin of indebted Europe: Eve, the angry Greek ready to smash the system; Adam, the epitome of the ‘ah shure, it’ll be grand’ Irishman. From the second scene onward, Eve becomes a Cassandra, unleashing a convincing rant about the injustices of Ireland’s bailout that rouses Adam from the couch.

The Great Couch RebellionDoherty is indignant about the condition of Ireland today, and wears his politics on his sleeve. On top of Eve’s hectoring of her husband about his indifference – which often seems doubly intended to lionise the audience – the between-scene breaks feature jump-cut video snippets of Irish talking heads and protest footage. While almost every Irish audience will have sympathy with his call for Irish people to stand up and defend their sovereignty, Doherty’s anger often gets in the way of his best gift (based on the evidence of this play) as a playwright: his comic writing. Adam and Eve are eventually joined at a protest by Adam’s former banker colleague, Manus (Kevin McGahern), another Irishman clueless about the new world order. There are some generally hilarious exchanges as new activist Adam tries to his enlighten his ignorant mate. (I hadn’t known, for instance, that there was 6% more fluoride in Irish Guinness versus Guinness produced for the rest of the world, and that this fluoride is a major contributor to our national lethargy.)

Yet, ultimately, The Great Couch Rebellion never becomes a satire on our sad state. Doherty wants the audience to bring his anger home with them. Marron is up to the task of portraying Adam as both louse and (eventually) martyr, and handles the rhetorical flourishes of the play’s last moments with fiery ease. Grillis’s character is ultimately more spirit than substance, though her rage is believable, while McGahern was an enjoyable foil and deserved a bigger part in the shaping the outcome of the play. The cramped quarters of the Theatre Upstairs provided just enough claustrophobia to ground the sense of desperation that remains constant throughout the play.

While there’s a lot of promise in Doherty’s writing and direction, when a final twist inspired by the death of Savita Halappanavar is revealed, The Great Couch Rebellion becomes nearly overwhelmed by its contemporaneity. This is odd, because Doherty’s ultimate aim is to unite the stuttering protest movement of today with the great tradition of Irish political rebellion. The production closes with Adam reciting Pearse’s oration at O’Rossa’s graveside to an imaginary audience watching online, which ends on the statement “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” Those were truly words to incite a nation.

Donald Mahoney

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Great Couch Rebellion by Philip Doherty

14 - 26 January, 2013

Produced by Theatre Upstairs
In Theatre Upstairs @ Lanigan's

Written and Directed by Philip Doherty

Set Design: Joe Doherty

Lighting Design: Ronan Geoghegan

With: Paul Marron, Margarita Grillis, Kevin McGahern