Having had very little to do with Irish culture save for St Patrick’s day, leprechauns and bad jokes, the prospect of seeing Brisbane Irish Theatre Group present Say Cheese was somewhat of a curiosity. Directed by Ellen Rafferty, Bernard Farrell’s play exposes a tangy snapshot of Irish culture presenting strong characters and potent dialogue.
Valentine and Bridie Fagan are “Ireland’s happiest couple”, or so Celtic Cheese promoter Mr Bradshaw would have us believe. Heather Fagan has submitted 150 cheese wrappers and entered her parents in the competition, and they have won. Their prize? Fame and fortune, along with the opportunity to re-enact their wedding as it was on St valentine’s day, 30 years before. The event is to be videoed for Celtic Cheese, complete with original honeymoon suite, bridesmaid Goldie and best man Rory Henderson. Making the occasion extra special will be the appearance of their long-lost son Ray, who is to return after 11 years away with the Canadian special forces. All of this takes place under the observant eye of hotel manager Mr L’Estrange and hotel maid Julie.
What results is a dialogue-driven drama, performed within the confines of the hotel suite. Plastered with cheesy (pardon the pun) valentines decorations, Julie (Caroline Woods) enters the room, flitting here and there as she dusts before the big day. Woods is convincingly fanciful and eager to please under the thumb of hotel manager, Mr L’Estrange (Diarmuid Cronin). Tight lipped and earnest, Cronin’s composure demonstrates amusing restraint, his eyes bulging as he discusses the pros and cons of feeding nuts to blonde gorillas.
Then there is the John Wayne-quoting Mr Bradshaw (Quentin Ellison). Ellison gives an enthusiastic performance as the tireless PR man for Celtic Cheese. He drives himself to despair, trying to find the ultimate “angle” with which to sell Val (Joe Burke) and Bridie (Marie Hayes). Much of the play’s charm indeed lies in the chemistry between these two characters. Both are comfortable with their roles as they squabble about this and that. Bridie tries to shape a reluctant Val into something she deems palatable to the cameras, all in an effort to keep Heather happy.
Triona Lee plays the fragile Heather with gushing charm, creating some amusing word plays. She copes with the surrounding fiasco when she remembers to “stay positive, take your pills”. Ray is played by David Fowles whose experience doing stand-up comedy is apparent in his comical timing. He is suitably timid throughout the performance, having received a welcome home that was perhaps unexpected.
Interesting is the interaction between Goldie (Eileen Ryan) and Rory (Brent O’Neill). Ryan is very good as the eccentric highland veterinarian with a penchant for neutering. O’Neil is a lot of fun as the beer swilling best man who has been living in the Australian outback, “down amongst the Aborigines and kangaroos”. Boisterous as you like, his reappearance sparks some old flames and tensions flare.
Adding to the happy throng Myles and Peter Moore, the “perfectionist” cameraman and sound recordist. They are to document the occasion for Celtic Cheese. Malcolm Jobson and Joe Ryan work well together, Jobson manic and Ryan pedantic as he searches for an elusive buzzing blue bottle.
Completing the party is Father Shanusshessy (John Audley), the unwitting priest whose job it is to marry the happy couple a second time. However things as it turns out are never that easy.
“What we are talking about are skeletons in the cupboard,” as Mr Bradshaw puts it. Indeed that seems to sum up the primary themes of the play. Farrell uses strong Irish and Australian stereotypes in terms of family dynamics to demonstrate the hypocritical veneer that people can be compelled to create in the quest for happiness. This is presented so the audience has the option of digging beneath the surface and examining the dirt within the relationships, or being picked up by the play’s charm and enjoying the fun as it arises.
At times the cast seem rather dishevelled on the stage, and certain points seem somewhat lacking in momentum. On the other hand, several moments are golden and a delightful rhythm develops. The stage warms with the glow of people having fun with their work, and the audience respond as a result.
The laughter keeps coming and Say Cheese it certainly succeeds as a good night at the theatre. Not a bad promotional item either. I left with a hankering for camembert and crackers.