Corofin Dramatic Society present ‘Big Maggie’ by John B. Keane

Setting

Set in 1960s rural Ireland
Act 1 – Scenes 1 & 2 – March 1963
Remainder of Act 1 – 3 months later
Act 2 – Almost a year later

Synopsis

‘Big Maggie’ is a compelling portrait of a woman who is determined to create a better life for herself and her children following the death of her husband. However, problems arise when her vision of the future begins to sit with increasing discomfort on the shoulders of her offspring. The dialogue crackles with hilarious, caustic putdowns as the indomitable Maggie deals with her feckless family and unwanted suitors. Everyone wants a part of Big Maggie and her property, but she has other ideas. John B. Keane’s wonderful creation of a rural irish matriarch ranks with Juno, Mommo and Molly Bloom as one of the great female creations of twentieth-century irish literature.

Cast

Maggie Polpin Maura Clancy
Gert Polpin Nicola Sheehan
Katie Polpin Pam Blake
Maurice Polpin Alan Maguire
Mick Polpin Jack Malone
Teddy Heelin Neil Haran
Mary Madden Lisa Clancy
Mrs Madden Eileen Lahiffe
Mr Byrne Martin O’Donohue
Old Man Ger Lahiffe
Old Woman Mary Kelly

Crew

Director John Clancy
Lighting John Clancy, Eddie McCourt
Sound Clare Foley
Stage Design John Clancy, Clare Foley, Thomas Kearney
Stage Manager Thomas Kearney
Make Up Rona Lyons, Carol Andrews
Stage Crew Vincy Egan, Willie Lahiffe, Mary O’Donohue, Sarah O’Donohue, Steve Malone
Logistics Martin Perill

About The Group

Corofin Dramatic Society has a long proud theatrical history. Founded in 1950 they continually strive to improve their dramatic standards. A major milestone occurred in 2008 when they won the Confined All-Ireland Finals with their production of ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’. A long time ambition was achieved in 2012 when they tread the boards of the Dean Crowe stage in Athlone with ‘The Subject Was Roses’ by Frank D. Gilroy. They were placed 3rd that year (no mean achievement for their first appearance). They have qualified for Athlone on three occasions since then, most recently in 2017 with their production of ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’. They have also been active participants on the one-act circuit down through the years winning the One-Act Confined All-Ireland Finals in 1993 and 2012.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

The adjudicator Anna Walker ADA opened her remarks by congratulating Corofin for reaching the All-Ireland finals in Athlone.
She talked about her daily walks around the town, and on the day of the ‘Big Maggie’ staging, she wondered where the lead character, Maggie Polpin would be working or would have owned.
“I went to Sean’s Bar, and I could really see her there,” said the adjudicator.
She said ‘Big Maggie’ was written by John B. Keane and the Corofin production was directed by John Clancy.
“John B. Keane was born in 1928, and he has a massive volume work of plays and prose, and was a radical writer,” said Ms. Walker.
She told the audience that his work wasn’t staged by the Abbey Theatre in his early years until Listowel won the All-Ireland in Athlone with the play ‘Sive’, in 1959.
“’Big Maggie’ was another one of his success, and it ran for 63 nights on Broadway, and Maggie Polpin was played by Marie Kean and Mary Madden was played by Brenda Fricker, and they were directed by Barry Cassin (former Athlone All-Ireland adjudicator),” said Ms. Walker. “The language of the play is coarse and rich, and the action is energetic, hard and brutal.”
She talked briefly about what the world was like in 1969, when ‘Big Maggie’ was first staged.
“In 1969, there was the first man on the moon, Eamon De Valera was President, Jack Lynch was Taoiseach, the battle of the Bogside happened, the Beatles played their last gig, ‘Sesame Street’ was broadcast for the first time, and a pint of Guinness costs the equivalent of twenty cents,” said Maggie. “Doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?”
She talked about ‘Big Maggie’ being a powerful social drama, and, and about Keane lifting the lid on the life of an oppressed women in Ireland.
“It’s wonderful to have one of his plays on in Athlone,” she said.
Speaking about ‘Big Maggie’, the adjudicator said that “what we should hear is Maggie’s primal scream, and the scream is finally unleashed with the death of her husband,”
She said that the director had the full commitment and engagement from each of his cast, but the over-pausing in the play broke the momentum.
“There were some incredibly long pauses, but the rhythm of language held, and the cast were vocally strong,” said Ms. Walker. “In the house after the funeral, Maggie was telling that the land was signed over to her, and this needed to be revealed in a more dramatic way and pointed way.”
She also said that the position of the chair in the bar, when people sat down weakened the drama.
“Big Maggie’ is not a subtle play, and it was a radical play in its time, and it still needs to be radical, and if it’s not, the play becomes a prisoner of this time,” said Ms Walker. “If the visceral and raw nature was pushed more; it would have a greater relevance.”
However she said the director caught the family dynamic, with credible siblings, but sometimes energy was lost because of the upstage positioning of some of the actors.
She enjoyed Mr. Byrne (Martin O’Donohue) taking out notes to read, so he could woo Maggie.
“I thought the scene with Maggie and Kate smoking cigarettes was very clever, and done very well,” she said.
The adjudicator also commented on Mary Madden walking behind the shop counter, and she thought the music which underscored Maggie’s monologue was very well done.
“The shop worked well, other than the positioning of the chair in the first act,” said Ms. Walker. “Due to the design of the graveyard, it meant we were breaking the fourth wall, and I’d rather that hadn’t happened, because it’s not always successful when you do that.”
Lighting and sound worked well, in particular she liked the atmospheric opening with the sound of bells and crows.
“Mr. Byrne was a cute hoor, and was excellent in Maggie’s reaction to the proposal, and that energised the storytelling about his neighbours, but he should be careful not to force the comedy,” said Ms. Walker.
She commented on Alan Maguire, the actor who played Maurice. She said he captured the quite nature of the character, but he may have been a bit nervous. She also talked about Jack Malone who delivered a vocally strong Mick. Neil Haran played Teddy Heelin, and gave him a smooth and smarmy persona.
She commended Lisa Clancy, who played Mary Madden, by saying she really liked her performance, and that there is no such thing as a small part in a play.
“What she did with Mary was so well done,” said Ms. Walker. “It was not overplayed, and there was an excellent use of the language of the play, and she found her inner strength.”
She said that Mrs. Madden was a pint-sized powerhouse, and she would be slightly afraid of her.
“Gert, played by Nicola Sheehan had an innocent youthful vibrancy and captured the sibling jealousy, but when she found Teddy Heelin and her mother together, more emotional tension could have been shown,” said Ms. Walker.
She said that Kate, played by Pam Blake had a very attractive physical presence on stage, and has excellent physicality.
“She was very relaxed on stage, and you are your mother’s daughter – well done to Pam Blake,” she said.
In talking about Maura Clancy, who played the lead role of Maggie, she told her she was a “vibrant Maggie, with a ruthless quality,”
“I would have liked to see a more vicious quality to you in those fight scenes with Kate,” said the adjudicator. “If you are to do a hit on stage, you have to go for it, and no half measures. I wanted more of that primal energy in the character. However then when she got with Teddy she played that really really well, and looked like a different woman in those scenes, and really got the subtext.”
Ms. Walker said that when Teddy was leaving, Maggie knew what she was going to do, and there was a power in the way she looked at him.
“She caught all the humour, and delivered her put-down lines superbly,” said the adjudicator.
However, she felt that were still elements of the character that needed further consideration. “I would say in the final monologue drill right down to the sediment of hurt, loss and longing that makes up Maggie Polpin,” she said. “This character is so complex. She still loves her children, although she has a very bad way of showing it. The actress, Maura Clancy found those moments and she delivered them so well.
“Thank you Corofin for bringing a slice of Kerry to us here in the midlands,” she said.