Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Helena Carone Wheatley 22 February 2020

A wonderfully funny yet emotionally sophisticated take on Brian Friel’s avant-garde tragicomedy, ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come!’ is well worth the trip to Robinson.

I was impressed to find out that of all the cast of ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come!’, only James Culhane (playing Boyle, Senator Doogan and Canon) and Daniel Quigley (playing S.B. O’Donnell, Con and Ned) are actually Irish. The accents were flawless, the mannerisms were spot-on and hilarious.

While some acting was stronger than others, the cast really came together to showcase Friel’s astute examination of family relationships, the anxiety of emigration, class struggle and the Irish psyche at large.

Image credit: Yasmine Chabry

Tom Hilton and Will Leckie play the private and public versions of the protagonist Gar, respectively. At first, I thought these two-hander scenes would be tacky. Given the outdated pseudo-psychological thinking about the subconscious that often gets thrown around in critical discourse, the scenes had a real potential to be unoriginal and dull.

Yet, Tom Hilton’s consistently energetic and practically flawless performance kept the audience engaged throughout. Hilton captured Private Gar’s sardonic, bitter sense of humour. This meant he could keep the audience laughing, making them vulnerable to the tear-jerking moments. The private Gar’s indignation towards the world around him and the fractured relationships in his family came through brilliantly.

Will Leckie, playing the public Gar, had a more naturalistic performance than Hilton’s. Therefore, he brought out the sadness and frustration that Private Gar fervently demonstrates in a more subtle and touching manner.

Image credit: Yasmine Chabry

The two acting styles came together to portray nuances of Gar’s character. Their improvised reaction to a prop malfunction (Gar’s suitcase would not open) was a testament to their confidence on stage and appreciation of their character’s duality.

Another outstanding performance came from Maddie Lynes (Madge): with an impeccable Irish accent, she beautifully embodies the stern but loving Irish matriarch. Iona Makin was surprisingly more convincing Tom, one of the lads who take Gar out on his last night in London, than as his darling lost love Kate or the aloof and drunken Irish-American Lizzy. Makin’s confidence picked up over the course of the night as she seemed to grow into her character, making her final moments on stage poignant.

This seemed to be a general trend for all the supporting actors. As the play shifts from comedy to tragedy, the actors develop alongside their characters.

Image credit: Yasmine Chabry

Although costume design (by Lydia Eliza Trail, Alice Horrel) was generally good, it would have been more effective to see a starker contrast in class through clothing: this is one of the key themes of the play, and it could have been explored more. More simply, for clarity, because many characters are played by the same actor, costume could have helped to alert the audience of their difference as soon as they walk onstage. The same applies for more minor characters such as Ben and Joe (William Hu).

Set design, on the other hand, was very clever. Yasmine Chbary’s choice to set the living room and bedroom as distinct but joined locations helped to contrast the action inside and outside Gar’s bedroom. This way, the theme of public vs. private life is brought to the forefront. The domesticity of the play was encapsulated by the furniture and decoration, which, though minimal, enabled some effective play with levels and dramatic irony.

Lighting (by Lighting Designer, Deasil Waltho and Lighting Operator, Lorenzo Montani) tracked the transitions and tonal shifts well, bar one almost unnoticeable slip up. The music choice by Technical Director and Sound Operator Mikael Cognell portrayed Gar’s excitement, anxiety and melancholia and were a great way to bring out Friel’s script’s attention the dramatic power of music without overdoing it.

Overall, this is a fantastic production that brought out the best of Friel. Don’t be put off by the unfortunate location – it is a fantastic way to kickstart your Week 6.

4.5 stars.