The Reel McCoy

The REEL McCOY 1989


by Geoff Oakley, Tullamore Tribune

Will Sean D*****y sue?

Audiences who have just seen Neil Donnely’s ‘The Reel McCoy’ will be chuckling over that question as they leave Dublin’s Peacock Theatre in the coming weeks.

And there is a great deal else to tickle the fancy and the playgoers’ sense of the outrageous in this latest presentation of the Tullamore writer’s work by the Abbey Company.

Government Ministers and the grass roots of Fianna Fail, left wingers in the third world and right wingers in the Church, the Press and the Provos and the British Army. … all these and many more are deluged in ridicule in a richly inventive script.

Farce and satire: Described in publicity material as a zany comedy, the Reel McCoy is a social and political satire and at the same time, a farcical comedy. Critics may say it falls between two, three or four stools. And maybe it does. But it emits so many fireworks of the imagination as it falls that it provides a hugely rewarding evening. Pretty certainly it would yield even more of enjoyment on a second viewing, when less concentration would be needed to follow the action and the playgoer could simply sit back and savour its delights. A second viewing would provide opportunity also of delving beyond the Raymond Chandler framework in search of Ibsen and further literary allusions – and speculating about political undertones and overtones. A third visit could prove more rewarding still – even if it did confirm the first impression that the ending comes as something of an anti-climax

Harry’s fevered mind: The story of the Reel McCoy takes place, according to the programme, in Dublin and in the fevered imagination of the principal character, a journalist and probably won’t-be novelist Harry Burns. The synopsis – which oddly enough is printed on a separate sheet rather than in the programme – eventually provides a useful guide, but reading it, gives no clue at all to the opening scene. Were it not that the reviewer had spotted the playwright in the theatre before Saturday night’s preview performance he would have thought he had strayed into the wrong auditorium! There are other moments too when the audience may feel a little jet-lagged but this is a play which can be enjoyed in many levels and in many moods. It tackles in the most irreverent way most of the problems affecting the lives of Irish people in the 1980s: the abortion and divorce referenda, the difficulties of reconciling unionist and nationalistic aspirations in the six counties, standards of morality in public and private life, international relations with Uncle Sam and with Britain. There are serious thoughts behind its handling of the hooded people in Irish society and behind the facile declaration that the new wind of change from the East has made redundant the trained killers of the West. And ultimately the play fleshes out that nightmare vision of the late Oliver J. Flanagan of an Army take-over of Government. After all that, it may be hard to believe that this is a comedy. But the writing is scintillating and it really is brilliantly funny.

The Performances: The play is directed by John Lynch and to utilise one of the less literate clichés which have somehow found their way into the vocabulary of the nation, the Abbey Company have ‘done it proud’. The actors utilise a ramp reminiscent of the setting for a fashion show, Production, Design (Bronwen Casson) and Lighting (Roger Frith) are brilliantly effective and the cast includes several of the leading lights of the Irish theatrical scene.

The main character, Harry Burns, is superbly played by Kevin McHugh and there is a memorable performance also by Kevin Flood as the ambitious two faced and two voiced politician whose sexual appetites are as insatiable as those attributed to a very much more famous real-life figure from the other side of the Atlantic. An actor of the ‘weight’ and dignity of Godfrey Quigley scarcely would spring first to many minds for casting of the dual roles of Lowry and Fr. Meegan but how he relishes these roles in giving probably the most chucklesome of all contributions. Harry’s wife, (Fedelma Cullen) is the only female character shown in anything like three dimensions though Richenda Fitzmaurice (Liz Bono) also is an intriguing creation. Peadar Lamb (Colonel and Priest), Michael O’Sulivan (Jake) and the supporting cast all play with gusto. (G.V.O.)


Who was the model for Neil Donnelly’s journalist in a new play “The Reel MaCoy! at the Peacock, Dublin? She, Richenda Fitzmaurice (Liz Bono) is multi-talented, always there at the action, favoured by all the favour-givers and who still has enough leisure time to write best selling – to be filmed – novels. That’s not all – she is sensuous, sexily skinny.

National intriguers, fellow journalists, Government ministers tumble when Richenda is around, she makes the news happen.

Of course, she upstages the play’s real hero. That’s Kevin McHugh playing Harry Byrne’s journalist who becomes a Raymond Chandler type investigator, while all the time he yearns to be a novel writer.

He jigsaw puzzles the whole non-plot of the play with its fix it, break it narration. Gently he bumbles along trying to pin guilt on society’s corrupt ones with never a real solution or deduction. Still McHugh gives a wittingly, endearing performance.

Along Dublin’s sinbelt, Lowry, an elderly man, is in quest of ‘comfort’. Godfrey Quigley is great gas and he finds a warm witty ‘hire a girl service’ in Eleanor Feely and Amanda Menson.

Peadar Lamb is in top acting form with two roles, a Barry Fitzgerald-type pries, and Col Daly who works for or against the Government.

Fedelma Cullen, Kevin Flood and Frank O’Sulivan complete an excellent cast put through their parts in a clever, funny, imaginative directon by John Lynch. Brmwyn Cassin’s set is ideally basic for our involvement. Lights – Roger Frith. Music by Bill Whelan. (Kay Hingerty).


THE REEL McCOY (Peacock)

Neil Donnelly’s cynical play is an unconventional comedy, which combines the decline and fall of self-disparaging reporter (would-be novelist) with various satirical themes including a farfetched conspiracy to unite Ireland at the price of joining NATO.

Beset by unscrupulous politicians, bugging and bugged by their civil servants, a right-wing secret society together with assorted hacks and nubile females, it is no wonder that Harry Burns is cracking up, just like Ireland (in his imagination at least).

Harry is an amusing creation and Kevin McHugh brings him to life splendidly, at the head of a large cast who disport themselves with relish through the play’s 15 zany scenes. It is an entertaining play with considerable popular appeal, although Donnelly’s anti-clerical chip is on show for too long in a self-indulgent Ku Klux Klan initiation scene, which may offend some people.

Several of the subsidiary characters are well drawn and enacted: notably Kevin Flood as the scheming minister for industry and cocaine. Liz Bono as the kiss-and-tell temptress, Michael O’Sullivan as Jake the CIA man, and Godfrey Quigley as the civil servant (whose tapes are the “reels” of the title), Fidelma Cullen as Harry’s wife and Peader Lamb as the army officer who opposes the minister.

The style of the pace is akin to a spoof of a bad television thriller in which all the improbable strands are brought together and unravelled in a dotty Croke Park denouncement, placidly produced by director John Lynch (of RTE) in an unusual adaptation of the normal Peacock stage (designed by Bronwen Casson).

Of course none of this is to be taken seriously. Or is it? The young at heart will enjoy the laughs and make up their own minds. (Tim Harding).

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