The Gigli Concert @ Finborough Theatre, London

cast list
Paul McGann
Niall Buggy
Catherine Cusack

directed by
Gavin McAlinden
Exiled Englishman and “dynamatologist” JPW King is holed up in his Dublin office, drinking vodka, hotwiring his fuse box and in need of money. He yearns for a love lost, he indulges a relationship he scarcely cares for and questions what God is.

Worse, as a practitioner of dynamatology – spirtual guidance to you and I – he’s suffering from a distinct lack of clients. That is until an unnamed Irishman walks in to his office and announces: “I want to sing like Gigli.”

Beniamino Gigli was a celebrated tenor in the first half of the last century. His reputation matched that of his compatriot Caruso, especially in Italy. His impassioned recordings form the soundtrack to Tom Murphy’s intricate play, first staged in Ireland over 20 years ago.

The play unfolds through a series of scene-closing precipices. The Irishman returns to King’s office each day for guidance, therapy, a sounding board, a chat, a rant, a drink. King is initially concerned only with the money, but soon broadens his interest to genuinely understanding his strange new client, whose out of control temper is fierce. In the process, he discovers aspects of himself he’d not explored before.

Niall Buggy’s Irishman and King, played by Paul McGann, initially seem to share little in common. King shuffles about in ragged shirt and trousers, his hair unkempt and his office a mess of vodka bottles, teetering piles of books and a couch that doubles as his bed. Yet he talks as though he believes himself to be in control of what his life has amounted to and affects a public school English accent. The Irishman is well dressed, moneyed and of an older generation – but claims to have grown up in Italy as the son of a cobbler (a reference to Gigli’s childhood). Scenes of chalk and cheese ensue as the two men get to grips with each other’s trials and disappointments.

What follows is an long and highly complex wallow in wordplay between the two protagonists. The play’s third character and the only woman present, Mona, is scarcely seen – and when she does appear she is little more than a dramatic device rather than a rounded character, a relief from the tortured, bared masculine souls on display.

The impressively simple stage design in the tiny Finborough is well utilised to intimate and at times claustrophobic effect, and the three actors are uniformly excellent. Buggy gets to demonstrate a show-stopping range of ability, while McGann is the perfect foil, despairing and hoping in equal measure as he becomes ever more emotionally involved with his peculiar client. Catherine Cusack, when she appears, brings to Mona a singularity of purpose and a degree of tenderness to her actions.

But The Gigli Concert ultimately feels overblown and overly complex. The characters are just the wrong side of believeable, and the worthy themes – what is God, why are we here, where are we going – get a little lost in amongst it all. Patience is well rewarded, however, for the final two scenes, which are spellbindingly dramatic.

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