Sunday Tribune 6th Nov 1983
by Fintan O’Toole
The narrow distorted world of the Irish midlands is the territory Neil Donnelly has staked out for himself in his three stage plays to date. Flying Home, a short lunchtime work, although set in Golders Green in London has the same sense of entrapment, of people battering themselves to destruction against an invisible wall, like moths against a window. The explicit violence of Upstarts and The Silver Dollar Boys is here subdued and sharpened into an unspoken threat, an ugly smouldering force that is revealed but never expressed. In formal terms Flying Home completes the transition to traditional Abbey naturalism evident in the rewritten version of The Silver Dollar Boys. The play takes place in that most traditional of Abbey settings, the kitchen. It is in the home of Bernie and Marie, two ageing Irish sisters running a boarding house. As the action opens they are preparing for the visit of the third, younger, sister, who will bring news from home. The rotten heart of the family is slowly exposed and its effect on the sisters suggested. It is a miniature Ibsen, a very well made play.
What is most interesting about Flying Home is that each of its three characters is a woman and that Neil Donnelly succeeds in capturing the crushing nature of the traditional family from a woman’s point of view. This is a rare and an important achievement for an Irish playwright. The men who impinge on the action of the play do so only as violent, exploitative, alcoholic and destructive creatures. This is an exaggeration but an appropriate and, for the purpose of the play, a necessary one. It works because Neil Donnelly has set the corrupt reality against the texture of rosy and sentimental images of Irish fatherhood and manhood which come through in the selective reminiscences of the women. Bernie remembers the idyll of Marie staying at home to get her father’s breakfast and polish his shoes while the others went to Mass on Sunday morning. Marie hints at the sinister facts of her relationship with her father.
Donnelly’s writing achieves a convincing degree of fluency. His characters talk much but reveal more in the evasions, the circumlocutions, and the accidental utterances than in their deliberate conversation. If the women are unable to talk much about their feelings, men are only heard as a frantic banging on the door, a ring on the telephone or a cacophony of rock music from the flat of the students upstairs. It is an effective and pointed device.
Ray Yeates’ production captures the atmosphere of surface banality containing a fierce turbulence beneath. He allows the action to make its own point, mainly through the sinister edge to May Cluskey’s performance as the elder sister who makes survival possible by a mixture of threat and comparison.
It is clear from Flying Home that Neil Donnelly has decided to plump, at least for the time being, for a style that suits the strengths of the Abbey company, and at which he himself shows considerable skill.