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Peter Bull of ATS (Above the Stag Theatre) presents

The Irish Curse

Five Guys. One tiny problem


by Martin Casella

Directed by David Zak

Above The Stag Theatre

4 - 30 Oct 2010











A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

It's not every night you get to eavesdrop on a self-help group for men with very small willies and it really feels like you're doing just that by sitting in the audience of this play. Even less likely, this group meets in a Brooklyn Catholic church hall with an Irish parish priest as facilitator, but this may seem quite natural to the clientele of The Stag, 'the only gay venue in SW1', who are admirably tolerant and welcoming of Londoners from all walks of life. I saw suits happily mixing with blue collars in the bar and although I was in a very small minority of women, I was made to feel very much at home. When the bell rang, almost everyone in the bar crowded upstairs to fill the tiny theatre, bringing their friendly chatter and drinks with them, creating an informal and unpretentious atmosphere particularly suited to the open-mindedness required by a play first performed in America, the birthplace of a therapy culture which has become ubiquitous.

The premise of the group is that a problem bared is a problem shared. Although no one literally bared the problem on stage, the offending dimensions were described in detail by each character; contract lawyer Joseph (Francis Adams) has a 'bottle-top' penis which failed to satisfy his absconding wife, sporty Rick (Kiel O'Shea) wears a jock strap stuffed with a sock to hide his deficiency, gay cop Stephen (James Bickmore-Hutt) is so ashamed of his cocktail sausage he only gives blow jobs, never having proper sex and even Father Kevin (Donal Cox) reveals his has girth but no length so that his one and only girlfriend drove him into the priesthood by shrieking 'Where's the rest of it?' during his first sexual encounter. This is all fairly excruciating and it's a credit to the considerable skill of the actors that no one ran out of the theatre through sheer embarrassment. The newcomer Kieran (James Butler) is lately arrived from Dublin and so needs to be schooled in the rules of group therapy, but insists on asking the personal questions which bring each character to confront the problem with more honesty than they've ever managed  before. In an entertaining riff which seems preposterous at first and becomes even less plausible as it gathers momentum, the guys discuss racial stereotypes where black guys, Poles and Italians have huge willies but the Irish don't and Joseph argues in a eureka moment, that all wars are a result of powerful men compensating for small willies, so that 'Bush' is an appropriate name for a President who was driven to start two wars by the curse.

At this point I started to balk at the premise of the play. Surely this was written tongue in cheek, or perhaps Freud was right about penis envy after all and this review should be written by a man. However, I was assured by a male companion that size really does matter this much, even on Wall Street a 'Big Swinging Dick' is a term used to denote a big time trader or salesman, so no doubt you do have to accept the premise in order to feel empathy for the characters in this play. The urgency of Kieran's problem unites the characters to put aside their petty bickering in an emotionally intense denouement and the play emerges as a serious attempt to address a problem that is often joked about but of course is no joke to those who experience this highly symbolic as well as crucially physical lack.

So the play wasn't really all that funny and anyone who came along to snigger soon felt ashamed of it. In this sense, it may be a bit moralistic for some tastes and I almost expected a Jerry Springer type homily at the end. However, it was a great pleasure to watch some fine acting, particularly from Kiel O'Shea making his professional debut as the handsome Rick whose heart is in inverse proportion to his dick. He is such a natural actor, I feel compelled to look out for him in future productions. The set by Fi Russell was cleverly devised to look very like a church hall, I also liked her costumes which gave immediate visual clues about the characters. It's not a play I would have sought out, but perhaps it's true that sometimes surprisingly good things come in very small packages.


Above the Stag Theatre

15 Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DD
Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 6pm
Tickets: £12 first week, £14 from 12 Oct
Box Office: 020 8932 4747


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