Milo O’Connor, an Irish immigrant in Brisbane, is convinced that he isat death’s door. Though his doctors have tested him and found nothingamiss, he is convinced that he can see apparitions in an x-ray of his chest- Nostradamus, the Pope, Jesus, Mick Jagger – which signify imminent death. So he decides to hold a wake while he is still alive, gathering friends andfamily together to celebrate his life while he’s still around to appreciateit. Yet what begins as a rousing mixture of Irish singing and rousingspeeches soon spirals out of control, as the gathering which Milo hasorganised threatens to dredge up dark moments from the family’s past.
Pub theatres, and the productions which take place in them, can go oneof two ways: stifling or intimate. Thankfully, Milo’s Wake manages to bethe latter, transforming the claustrophobia of its venue into a strength. The play, in fact, would not work in a larger venue, as it relies on adegree of audience interaction which produces some of the play’s mostentertaining moments; certain audience members are spoken to as friends ofthe family, and Milo’s wife Maura circulates with a tray of Baileys andWhisky for the audience to sample. With the pleasingly worn out seats onthree sides of the stage, the barrier between cast and audience isrepeatedly and effectively broken down, and the play is never less thanengaging.
The actors generally make a fine job of commanding this level ofinteraction, without it becoming hackneyed. Andy Hamilton’s Milo issuitably overbearing and energetic, and is matched by Frances Bodiam’sMaura as his long suffering wife. Both manage to portray their characterswithout lapsing into clich, and the play’s sensitive treatment of theissues surrounding immigration is one of its strong points. CharlieSandford and Lisa Davis, as the couple’s son and his fianc, struggleslightly to maintain Australian accents, but this only grates occasionallyand is generally glossed over by the sheer energy of the piece.
While the early emphasis of the play is on comedy, centring on Milo’sblustering oafishness, the tone of the latter half is very different, asthe action veers towards devastating revelations and an examination offamily relationships reminiscent of Edward Albee. This shift is managedably by the actors, who convince in their portrayal of a family torn apartby shared tragedy, yet the play fails to entirely balance these shifts oftone. The attempted conglomeration of farce, tragedy and rousing Irishsinging is certainly a brave one on the part of writers Margery and MichaelForde, yet it is difficult to pull off, and can lead to an awkwardness oftone as the action veers between Milo’s bitter tears and his renditions of’The Wild Rover’ and ‘Danny Boy’.
It is certainly a play worth catching, though, either in Baron’s Courtor in August when it goes to the Edinburgh fringe. The cast are capable,and the play is intelligently directed by Jane Hammond and Sarah Cottam,who make excellent use of the space in the theatre. The audience beingplied with alcohol and drawn into the party is indicative of the best frameof mind in which to watch this play – after a few pints of Guinness,willing to be swept along with the song, the laughs and the tears.