Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant

Last month, I had the pleasure of going to the infamous Abbey Theatre for the first time was undescribable, courtesy the Abbey inviting bloggers. I know a lot of the history of the Abbey in the ether of my mind as I wrote an essay and gave a presentation about it a few months ago, especially when decades ago the Abbey was expanding onto the former site of a morgue and discovered a body or two. The size of the theatre was quite intimate allowing the actors to break the fourth wall and connect to the audience much more so than other theatres where you may feel like a simple ticket number.

The play was ‘The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant‘ written by Tom Murphy which was simply fantastic, although this evening is the final performance. I had the preconceived notion that it would be something along the lines of ‘The Field’ and to some degree I was expecting it to feature a patriarchal figure rather than Arina (Maire Mullen), the diminutive woman with the moniker of a “tyrant”. It echoes of King Lear when Arina divides the land between her children but tries to keep a measure of power. Needless to say the empire she has forged from nothing and spent her entire life creating may easily crumble in the hands of a master  manipulator.

I knew when I heard the title of the Earl of Rochester’s poem ‘The Imperfect Enjoyment’ and the opening lines being bawled, I expected the characters to display lewd actions and they delivered. Although at the interval, someone said the scene was outrageous and almost pornographic, obviously they were unaware that the scene consisted of a literary poem.

The tenacity and defiance at the climax of ‘The Last Days of A Reluctant Tyrant’, caused tears to flow freely down my face, I didn’t even particularly cry in a pretty manner. 🙂 I’ve read the play several times since seeing it on stage but the climax never fails to evoke my emotions, especially in the final soliloquy. This play has earned its place in being my favourite and I’ll be definitely keeping an eye on other events at the Abbey Theatre.

Lexia has blogged about it too.

The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant by Tom Murphy from Abbey Theatre on Vimeo.

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4 responses to “Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant

  1. One of the most boring, predictable and derivative plays I have seen in a long time.

    Plotwise, one thinks of Lear but where are the great speeches – just a lot of mealy-mouthed whimperings from the sons & bellowings from the mother. Someone should tell Ms Mullen that power on the stage is not conveyed by shouting. It became farcical at time.

    A cast of ‘thousands’ who were totally unnecessary except to fill a bare stage. The set if you could call it that was a joke – looked like the inside of a barrel with ghosties clambouring about. Was the setting Russia or Connemara? In which War was Stephen fighting, wearing a Russian uniform?

    Peter was a predictable camp figure straight out of ‘Are you being served? and ended up as the DemonKing.The other son was given no lines at all in Act I -only allowed to hiss!! His death was a great relief (for the audience) & turned farcical by his mother’s speeches. Was this intentional? It so it was cheapstakes by the author. Mothers at their son’s death bed don’t behave like that. The old father ‘playing with himself’ on stage – was this supposed to be funny?

    Obviously the author is still emotionally and sexually retarded (or well sozzled) when he writes this sort of mediocrity. It was so obvious that he was desperately cramming an entire 3-vol novel into 4 acts which almost become a Pantomime or a country pageant at best. No time for character development as we hurried along for another few decades (Yawn yawn) – lots of folk didn’t return after the interval.

    The author needs a good editor and the play a much firmer director. Cut by half the plot might have held up; more is not necessarily better – usually the reverse. At times it looked like a mini-TV series as demented servants whipped off table cloths & laid another tea service.

    Frankly no one gave a damn about anyone on stage. They never evoked our sympathy. They all deserved their fate – even the niece was ‘asking for it’. It was such a relief when they all died.

    Then that final barnstorming speech by the old harridan who sounded more & more like a fishwife. As they say ‘her roots are showing’. Ghastly alienating technique singing ones self-praises. It doesn’t work in the theatre unless as in music hall or Panto where you expect the audience to boo the villian. And that is almost what the audience did. Lucky there were no tomatoes or rotten eggs available. Where was the reluctant tyrant? We never saw her.

    Very much the case of the Emperor’s New Clothes with this play but someone needs to whisper in the author’s ear…It was Godawful!!!

  2. My personal thoughts regarding the play are quite good overall.

    As regards the plot and storyline, I felt it was relevant to an Irish perspective as the issue of owning land and property is an encoded cultural necessity in Ireland. Arina simply tried to do her best by her family. Even after raising her children and setting them up for life with land and a home, they kept on interfering and wanting more as they knew she would comply.

    The set design was an innovative construction as it illustrated the fact that even in death, her family especially her children were still a burden upon her.

    The son that was only allowed to hiss in the first act had very little dialogue in the entire play to demonstrate the fact that he was a quiet, introspective character, completely different to his drunkard and manipulative brothers. He was not required to speak as Arina’s force of character was enough to keep the momentum of the play going.

    Before the interval, it was fast-paced but I agree that after the interval everything was at a slower pace. I was kind of annoyed at the way in which the play detoured for a bit. It got right back on track soon enough.

    For the ending soliloquy, I stick to my opinon that Arina’s final moments is one the best scenes as she explains herself and reveals a bit about her past. She recognises that her life is paralleled by Peter’s and maid’s illicit relations and tries to give them the best in life even when
    her own is so desolate.

  3. Another friend’s thoughts:

    A pity about the quality of the play considering the amount of travel involved to get up to it. Am glad I didn’t stay to endure the second part. Disappointing also that such a prominent actor as Marie Mullan acted so badly. Perhaps because of the playwright being such an eminent figure, the Abbey didn’t dare reject it or at the very least subject to some editing.

    However, thats always the gamble of going to a live theatrical performance – no guarantees. I did get to see Present Laughter by Noel Coward at the Gate a couple of nights later. A very polished production (even though it was a preview ) with excellent casting and acting that brought out the best of Coward’s wit and humour. Would highly recommend it

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