Published on March 19th, 2012 | by Sinead Keogh1
Theatre Review: Improbable Frequency @ The Gaiety
Having debuted in 2004, Rough Magic’s Improbable Frequency is by no stretch a new production but its current run is our first time to see it. Although it was new to us we heard many good things before settling into Thursday night’s performance at The Gaiety. Set during World War Two, the production which describes itself as ‘a pulsating cabaret-style musical’ features a cast of characters imagined and real (John Betjeman and Myles na gCopaleen are written liberally for the stage) and tells the tale of a British spy in Ireland.
With Peter Hanly reprising his original role as Faraday (the British spy), we open on the scene of the crossword enthusiast being recruited for his mission to Ireland. There he is to investigate O’Dromedary (Rory Nolan), a radio presenter whose song choices appear to be alerting the Germans to the weather conditions and aiding their air raids over Britain. Hanly’s measured performance anchors the show from the start, with his reserved character putting some order on an otherwise erratic motley crew.
With Faraday’s arrival in Ireland we’re treated to the first musical number – ‘Be Careful not to Patronise the Irish’ – an upbeat and hilarious tune featuring such lyrics as ‘yes be careful not to patronise the Irish/though they don’t object to patronising you/is it smugness or insurgency/that makes them say ‘Emergency’?/I feel it lacks the urgency/of World War Two’. The cast of British diplomats are cleverly costumed in the staple large hats and macs of spies, with the exception of John Betjeman (Rory Nolan) who is a whimsical, ridiculous Willy Wonka type character complete with stripey blazer and a teddy bear on his walking stick. Nolan as Betjeman is a joy to watch – a triumph of physical comedy as well as witty scripting – and would be a show-stealer among lesser players.
When Faraday goes on to investigate at the Red Bank Restaurant, known haunt of Nazi sympathisers, we meet na gCopaleen (Darragh Kelly), blonde ingenue Philomena O’Shea (Stephanie McKeon) and Agent Green, a would-be spy who Faraday knows from his Crossword Solver’s Lunch days. Darragh Kelly turns in a pitch-perfect curmudgeon performance as na gCopaleen while McKeon, in her first outing with Rough Magic, shines as Philomena O’Shea with expert comic timing. She is easily the stand-out vocalist in the cast, in particular during her own numbers ‘The Inner Specialness of Me’ and ‘Don’t You Wave Your Particles at Me’. At times hitting in the mark, Cathy White’s Agent Green doesn’t quite convince, with some awkward choreography and would-be femme fatale moments failing to make their mark.
With much of the second act centred around the laboratory of Erwin Schrodinger (Brian Doherty) – the Austrian physicist whose work gives the musical its name – things take a turn for the distinctly haywire. Each character’s place in proceedings is neatly tied up as all of the lingering questions come to a head – what is Schrodinger doing? Can the radio presenter control the weather? Does Ireland have an atom bomb? The stage becomes a flurry of activity in act two as the crux of the plot is revealed to be verging on the ridiculous and there’s even an improbable and brilliant sex scene reminiscent of the old nun sleeping with a clown joke (virgin on the ridiculous). Though it seems erratic, there are points during which the whole cast of characters are on stage, neatly stepping around each other and showing that they are in fact tightly scripted and choreographed.
All in all, though there are moments when some of the dialogue meanders on a fraction too long and some briefly jarring moments on the tech side of things (at one stage we saw a cursor scrolling across the video backdrop), in general Improbable Frequency is everything an Irish musical should be – irreverent, hilarious and smart. Replete with a cleverly conceived set design on the part of Alan Farquharson, Betjeman and na gCopaleen’s biting duet ‘You’ll Write Something Bloody Good One Day’ and a sparkling cast, Arthur Riordan’s pièce de Irish Résistance is a quick-witted triumph and a must-see.
Improbable Frequency runs nightly at 7.30pm at the Gaiety Theatre until March 24th. Saturday matinee is at 2.30pm. Tickets from €15-47.50.