The Big Fellow runs tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday night in The Everyman Palace Theatre.
“If there were no wild boys, there would be no great men” Frank O’Connor’s mother wrote to him in 1922, when he was a prisoner-of-war at Gormanston camp. Declan Gorman’s original play The Big Fellow, based on O’Connor’s writings, captures the life and times of the wildest boy of them all, Michael Collins, as he graduates from masterminding the most dare-devil raids, prison breaks and escapades of the War of Independence, to commanding the official army of a newly-formed state. Greatness did indeed follow Collins but so too did division, torment and tragedy. And herein lies the mystery, and the question at the heart of Gorman’s play. Frank O’Connor fought against Collins’ side in the Civil War. So why did he divert from a glittering literary career just a few years later to write a book reappraising his dead enemy?
The Big Fellow is revived for this 2019 tour having previously toured to 26 venues in Ireland since premiering at the Drogheda Arts Festival in 2016. It has also enjoyed a successful tour of India in November 2017, where it was seen at the National Centre for the Performing Arts as part of the Tata Mumbai Literature Live Festival and thereafter in Delhi and Bangalore.
Gorman directs and designs his own play which has been described as “an imaginative and entertaining piece of non-stop, high-energy theatre”. It is driven by a powerful score composed by Colin Blakey (ex-Waterboys). Gerard Adlum (as O’Connor) and Ian Toner (who takes over the part of Michael Collins) give outstanding performances, bringing to vivid life a nation embroiled in the excitement and turmoil of formation. Lighting design is by Cillian McNamara. Costumes are by Drogheda-based artist Maureen Finn who has previously been shortlisted for an Irish Times Theatre Award.
The play has been widely lauded by critics and has been described as, “Insightful, inspiring and profoundly moving… A wonderful use of humour is what differentiates Gorman’s drama from other historical narratives.” (Orla O’Dea, Westmeath Examiner)
The script was developed with support from The Abbey Theatre literary department, so no doubt the calibre of language will be sublime. Indeed, The Big Fellow has all the ingredients necessary to serve up a stellar performance.
It should be noted that The Big Fellow contains strong language and simulated gunfire. It is therefore not recommended for children under 12 years. Tickets are priced at €20/Concession €18/Students €9 and can be purchased online or in the theatre.