Well, begob and begorrah! Welcome to Pucún, a small Irish border town which lays claim to Ireland’s highest count of stock characters per square mile, as well as a hero’s portion of gab and codology. We are greeted by Spike (Paddy Gibson), a lyrical publican who stands behind the bar with a type-writer, composing the characters and events that are to follow.
The mischievous spirit of Flann O’Brien is in evidence here as Spike delivers us The Dan Milligan, played by Sam Ford, who awakes to complain bitterly of the quality of the legs afforded him by the writer. We are left for the most part in the hands of Milligan, an incurable idler, whose irreverent meanderings flavor the tale.The play, adapted from Spike Mulligan’s Puckoon by Ellen Kirk & Michael Stone (who are also credited as directors), is set in the year of Our Lord 1925 or thereabouts; the Boundary Commission have, in their haste to reach the pub before closing time, carelessly drawn the Irish border so that it runs through the churchyard of Fr. Patrick Rudden (Cathal O’Leary), Pucún’s parish priest. Fr. Rudden will be damned if his parishioners should take their eternal rest in the clay of a Protestant country, and so hatches a plan with his fellow gobdaws to steal across the border (aka the other side of the churchyard) and return the bodies to the Catholic soil of Free State Ireland! In the meantime the IRA plot to booby-trap a coffin and use it to attack the British soldiers on the Northern side of Pucún. All this and the meddlings of Major Stokes (Andy Duane) and Sergeant MacGilikude (Grace Healy), a raucous sex scene involving a farm-girl and the town fireman, the inexplicable New Yoik sean-nós of Dr. Goldberg, as well as the escape of a panther in the woods. Confused? You should be.
It is the play’s humor which prevails throughout: this piece has more gags than you can shake a stick at. Some are obvious, or crass, but for the most part you’ll be laughing in spite of yourself; the priest lies pensively on the grave of an old friend and declares: ”This isn’t the first time you’ve a had a man on top of you, of course.”. Pucún! is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and it is undeniably fun. Even the mistakes are funny – a misremembered line by Milligan prompts Spike to look up from his typewriter with: ”Typo! Typo!”
Its beguilery can only take it so far, however: Spike’s poetic diversions are an unnecessary addition, and I found Dr. Goldstein’s pub-talk abortion tangent both tasteless and unfunny. To say, meanwhile, that the play is a little rough around the edges would be an insult to edges the world over. Lighting cues are missed and costume changes are verge on the farcical. At one stage the director appeared mid-scene to deliver a prop one of the actors had forgotten. Pucún! is not a slick production by any means, but the strength of the script’s humor combined with the energy of the cast make for a likable, if chaotic show. A word of praise also to set-designers Chloe Eddleston and Molly Jermyn, whose set, a collection of country curios not to mention a well-stocked bar, lends itself well to the rural parody of the piece.
There’s certainly divilment galore in Pucún! and there’s no faulting the cast for their energetic, if anarchic, delivery. Yet it loses the run of itself by the end and verges on the farcical and it would take a much sharper critic than myself to figure out the concluding scene… Nevermind – there’s a bellyful of laughs to be had in Pucún! – perhaps best enjoyed with a bellyful of porter. Shite and onions!