Dolly West's Kitchen

Thursday, 18 May, 2000

The British Premiere of Frank McGuiness' new play is set during the Second World War in Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland. The drama tackles the subject of Irish neutrality during the war and the problems and conflict this causes within Ireland. The story centres on the West family, and the upheaval of seeing their landscape and lives changed with the arrival of allied troops, particularly, with the arrival of Alec, a British soldier who used to be the lover of one of the daughters of the family. Problems intensify when the mother asks two American soldiers around for dinner.

What a powerful and pulsating play this is! It is rich with characters that are both deep and funny. McGuinness has captured the mood and feeling of this difficult time for Ireland wonderfully. Most disturbing for me was the thought that Ireland so hated the British at this time that some may have preferred Hitler to have won the war!! This gives you some idea of 'probably' why Ireland stayed neutral?

The producers have brought together a great cast here. In my opinion there is an Olivier Award winning performance by Pauline Flanagan. Pauline gives a commanding performance as 'Rima', the matriarchal mother, and holds the play together as well as providing nearly all the laughs. Her sharp delivery and pouting features are perfect and crucial to the whole play. 'Rima', is a widowed feisty old woman who tries to keep the family together in her own eccentric kind of way. You cannot help but feel warmth towards her.

Donna Dent performs adequately in the title role of 'Dolly West'. Dolly, is the adventurous daughter who left home and went to live in Italy where she ran her own restaurant. However because of the war she came back home and now cooks for the family, hence the name of the play 'Dolly West's kitchen'. Steven Pacey plays 'Alec', a British Soldier, whom was once the lover of Dolly. When he turns up in Ireland, an uneasy relationship develops between them once again.

Dolly's young brother 'Justin West', is played by Michael Colgan. He is an officer in the Irish army who despises the British. Justin is an angry and bitter man who tries to control the whole family, that is until his mother invites two American soldiers (Marco and Jamie) into their home. 'Marco', a camp queen, played by Perry Laylon Ojeda, releases Justin's homosexual tendencies and this has the effect of softening Justin's hatred of the allied forces.

Catherine Byrne produces a convincing performance as 'Esther Horgan', the oldest daughter who is married to a man she does not love 'Ned', played by Simon O'Gorman. However, Esther falls for one of the American Soldiers, 'Jamie', played by Harry Carnahan, and she becomes torn between lust and duty! Lucianne McEvoy, as 'Anna' the servant girl, also has eyes for Jamie.

The play has received good notices from the popular press.....NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD liked the play describing it as a "Delightful" and a  "Sparky production." CHARLES SP ENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "One more in a line of Irish greats." He goes on to say "Heaven knows what they are putting into the Guinness in Ireland, but the great plays just keep on coming." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Engrossing and blissfully funny..." MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, "Glorious...An excellent cast." However, BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES was not overly impressed saying "Frank McGuinness's new play at the Old Vic lacks focus."

Frank McGuinness touches on a taboo subject with Irish neutrality, but he has managed to portray some reasons for this, as well as some insight into the lives of those who had to live with it. It is also quite disturbing and sad at the end of the play witnessing the terrible effects the war has had on those who fought in it. A pulsating play that is very much worth seeing.

A footnote! Although the play is booking to August the theatre was half empty which suggests its run could be cut short. So be quick and don't miss this play that is deserving of a bigger audience.

(Darren Dalglish)

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