Packie’s Wake a resounding success

Carmel McCafferty in Packie's Wake.

Carmel McCafferty in Packie's Wake.

The play ‘Packie’s Wake’ has been born again, and its conversion is a glory to behold.

This revised and renewed production by the PlayStation Theatre Company at the Millennium Forum opened on Wednesday to a near capacity audience.

And if the laughter and standing ovation of the highly appreciative audience is anything to go by it looks as if they have a major hit on their hands.

This show has more than its share of semi-precious gems in a script bursting with so much fun that it could cover three plays. Packie’s Wake became a theatrical phenomenon 15 years ago and left a trail of sore ribs from Broadway in Creggan to Broadway in New York. And just seeing the opening scene you can why it became such a success as it takes you a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish. Eddie Kerr’s script has no overarching framing device yet the effect here is of a story coming to life in the telling. The main set a simple terrace house festooned with the trappings of a Republican family. But there are a mini-plays within the play.

All those fireside chairs are stages from which yarns can be spun.

This is a play not to be missed and unless you are quick to book at the Forum you will have to catch it next week in An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny.

Having been last staged 12 years ago the new reincarnation is a pot purée of comedy and pathos, a fleet-footed beauty of a play, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don’t be deceived, though, by its air of humility.

There’s a deep wealth of power within its less than restrained dialogue. One liners hit the funny bone like a machine gun taking no prisoners. Packie Devlin, played masterly by Gerry Doherty and his long suffering wife, played expertly by Carmel McCafferty hit the stage like an expose on domestic strife. The dazed and confused state of the early Packie is soon replaced with sharp wit and ‘serial blamer’ of the mid play Packie who blames everyone for his demise to the repenting Packie of the end of this wonderful play.

The first words we hear have the plangent resonance of a childhood remembered on Derry Quay. A story of a childhood friend, played by an assured newcomer Jack Ward, pimping for his prostitute mother, Uncle Hugh, played by Andrew Newton, who went off to fight in WW2 as there was no work in Derry and a best friend, Pudger played by Conor Barr, shot on an anti-internment march. And what should be serious end of drama suddenly becomes a tragi-comedy of immense proportions. But this play has so much more than just side splitting lines and great comic performances. We see the tenderness and the need to be cared for Jinny; an hysterically funny aunt played with panache by Bernadette McFarland.

And we witness at first hand the powerful underlying tensions that exist between the two sisters, Mary played brilliantly by Muire McCallion and Angela played by an excellent Cassie Riggs, and feel for Mary’s daughter, Stephanie, played exquisitely by Derbla Duffy, watching as she learns more than a few family truths.

A great ensemble performances overall but special mentions have to be given to the Laurel and Hardy of funeral directors played with ultimate slapstick and humour by Glaswegian actor, Bill Waters and local favourite Paddy Taylor, Hubert played by Jimmy McFadden and the Priest played deftly by Gerry Newton. One of the outstanding performances on the night was that of Francis, the nosy neighbour, played with aplomb by Maureen Wilkinson who brought the house down with her sharp wit and bland ignorance of feelings or opinions. And then there was self centred, self absorbed and self diagnosing the habitual wake goer, Lexie, is a big poke of a character destined to bring any wake-house down which he does with s string of repeatable, but mostly non-repeatable, one liners.

This is a fast, bruising, and extraordinarily punishing excavation of family skeletons, all the more bruising since – with a couple of exceptions – the events are not entirely comic humdrum.

The story is about a simple man who dies in extraordinary circumstances and has the chance to attend his own wake where he hears what other people really think of him; which turns out to be in a avalanche of abuse and ridicule.

Packie’s Wake runs in the Millennium Forum (Box Office 71-26445) until Saturday night and then transfers to An Grianan Theatre next week.