"Down in Dingle
Where the men are single
Pigwidgeon in the closet
Banshee in the bed
An antichrist is suffering
While the Gombeen man's dead.
Down in Dingle."
- J.P. Donleavy from The Ginger Man
Ginger Man, New Theatre, Dublin"
by Mic Moroney
Although laws were passed in Ireland in the 20s to allow for censorship of literature and cinema, the theatre was left alone. The reasoning was that, after the riots that greeted Juno and the Paycock and Playboy of the Western World, the public could look after that.
Indeed, as late as 1959, after J.P. Donleavy's novel, The Ginger Man (1955) was banned, he took to the stage with it at the Gaiety with Richard Harris in the central role. Although it attracted a guardedly positive review in the Irish Times (which also called it "rancid mead"), it was widely howled down, and closed after three performances.
But by God, has it stood the test of time. Pared leanly down from the novel, it has all the latter's seething chaotic energy, the mania powered on fumes of alcohol, and the monstrous, alcoholic, hyperliterate, chameleon-like central character, Sebastian Dangerfield.
Set in Dublin during Donleavy's student days in the early 50s, it sees Dangerfield holed up in a rented house with his English, upperclass, Protestant wife and infant daughter. Boiling up a sheep's head for himself in the parlour, Dangerfield has pawned the antiques, his typewriter and even the lead off the toilet pipes to feed his habit of wandering pubs and chasing ladies of the night. However, although parachuted in by wealth and class, he lacks his wife's snobbish race-hatred of the impoverished Catholic Irish.
It's a very neat production, directed by Ronan Wilmot without a great deal of modulation, but punching the scenario home very effectively. Actor David Murray makes interestingly slithery, narcissistic work of Dangerfield, while his wife (played by Julie Hale) emotionally disentangles herself. Mary McEvoy, a big Irish soap star, turns in a nicely understated lodger as the prim, quiet lodger who guiltily allows herself to be seduced, before she too sees the light and abandons ship.
the fourth character is Dangerfield's hopeless, lust-addled fellow drop-out, American Kenneth O'Keefe. Here, the play fetches up clear echoes of Donleavy's own days with Brendan Behan and Gainor Christ [sic] [Crist], drinking themselves militant in cellar bars in Dublin.
It's all very reminiscent of the Angry Young Men of English theatre of the time, yet after all these years, it still skewers quite a number of Irish social mores and prejudices; calling a spade a spade in such a forceful way, it can often be like a slap in the face.