One for the road Carmel?

Local actress Carmel McCafferty. 1002PG34)
Local actress Carmel McCafferty. 1002PG34)

This play is so good it is to be deported!

It’s a play that the Derry people have taken to their hearts, but as actress Carmel McCafferty prepares to say a final farewell to the role of Maire - A Woman of Derry, Journal reporter Laurence McClenaghan is campaigning for one last performance at The Venue.

This play is so good it is to be deported!

Plans are afoot to stage ‘Maire a Woman of Derry’ in Australia in 2014.

But surely, this story of Derry’s best known alcoholic, should be deported to the Waterside and staged at The Venue first?

When was the last time you gladly devoted two hours to listening to an alcoholic wax lyrical about their life and lifestyle? Almost two thousand people gathered in the Millennium Forum last weekend to do just that.

Many of those theatre goers had already heard ‘Maire: A Woman of Derry’s’ story and returned for more. One ‘gentleman’ behind me uttered countless punchlines before Maire did, yet still he couldn’t detract from this wonderful production.

It is easy to see why this is one of Derry’s most popular productions of recent years.

Maire’s last word still hung in the air as the tears and laughter were choked back by the adulation of another audience who, once again, had taken her into their hearts.

The rapturous applause lasted for several moments. No doubt, those ovations would have lasted much, much longer had the audience members realised this was, perhaps, the final performance of Maire by Derry’s leading actress and dramatist Carmel McCafferty.

With the first twist of her screw top, the first twist of her knowing smile, the audience were in Carmel’s hand.

It is clear why Carmel has proved to be a cornerstone of the Derry theatre scene for more years than she’d like me to mention here.

Not a single gesture was wasted by McCafferty. Every step, every word, every touch of her face, tug of her coat during this two hour production was clung to by the capacity audience.

The sadness of the play, the gut wrenching pain we feel for our anti-hero, is served up in a manner in which only a city torn apart by war and indeed alcohol dependence can: With lashings of black humour, endearing flaws and beautifully crafted anecdotes.

I for one think this Woman of Derry, with its flawless script and even better performance, deserves one final curtain call, one final farewell.

Certainly few Derry artists can be more deserving of a stage as grand as The Venue as ‘Our Carmel’ is.

So consider this less a review than an open letter to the Culture Company who hold the keys to The Venue.

Considering the artistic merits of this production and the aim of the City of Culture to have a “meaningful and purposeful inquiry’ Maire, with or without the help of broadcasting companies, could and should be staged at The Venue.

For, dare I say it, this is an honest examination of a disease which no Derry family escapes. It is as brutal in its treatment of alcoholism, as it is respectful and caring of its protagonist. In two hours of continual laughs Maire never fails to laugh with us. While we feel sorry for her in parts, we never pity her.

If inquiry is sought as part of 2013, then it should not escape the Culture Company’s attention that Maire provides a lesson for all those who watch. Few audience members will have failed to question their own drinking habits at the final curtain.

However the real strength of Maire is not as a lesson but as a play. Brian Foster has superbly straddled the fine line between lesson and entertainment and should be applauded for it, again and again.

Now let’s get Maire across that Peace Bridge.