Archy in Manhattan | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Runs until Saturday 08 September ’18
By Conor O’Neill
It’s been many a year since I last watched a performance in the Grand Opera House’s little sister, The Baby Grand. And what a refreshing change it is. Seating 130 souls and with a stage that allows the watcher to almost touch the performers, this intimacy is the perfect venue for Marie Jones’ latest release, Archy In Manhattan.
Based on Don Marquis’ poem, The Lesson of the Moth, Jones script runs a riot across the stage, Manhattan and the viewer’s emotions. You will laugh, you may just cry, laugh some more but most definitely, you’ll think. I’d heard of transcendental meditation, but trans-migratory shape-shifting after a human leaves this mortal coil is new to me. In short, it’s simply reincarnation.
Archy, played by Matthew McElhinney, along with his motley crew of your typical down-on-their-luck poets, with egos a million times bigger than their collective financial worth, debate their misfortune. They criticise every living and past poet you can name – and quite a few more esoteric names – as they seek out lives, fuelled by rejection letters and drinking the ‘undrinkable’. As this conversation or ineligible ranting comes to the fore, Archy takes matters into his own hands and throws himself from a four-story window.
And this is where the fun really begins. “He was a good man… but a terrible poet” is the only flinch from his fellow wordsmiths as our protagonist awaits his return. His reincarnation is not alas what he would have hoped for. His new form is that of a cockroach. Oh, how the lowly have hit new depths. His new abode being that of a hack reporter. As a first returner, he soon finds company, namely Freddie the cat, a former actor boasting of former great success on Broadway. His other new acquaintance is that of Mehitabel, a dancer who has a penchant for the bad boys resulting in litter after litter.
Freddie is gloriously played by Dan Gordon (The Fall, Give My Head Peace) and every time he graces the stage laughter, madcap events, pretentious ramblings, most to do with the death of theatre. That is until his untimely death by way of a disease-stricken tarantula. With writing still in his blood, Archy sets about writing Freddy’s obituary using his hack host’s typewriter.
Along with Abigail McGibbon’s (founder member of The Belfast Ensemble) Mahitabel, we meet an array others. Tara Lynne O’Neill’s (Derry Girls, The Fall) lovelorn Miss Ladybug trails Archy round the city as he hops from destination to destination looks for a few crumbs. “I know this is a depression but there must be a morsel somewhere.” As Miss Ladybug’s intention and determination increase, Archy finally has to end her hopes. “I’m a loner.” He confesses. “Oh, how wonderful, I’m a loner too. We can be alone together.”
Other characters include Pete the parrot, all the way from London. Actor Michael Condron (Game of Thrones, Soft Border Patrol), who like all of the cast apart from McElhinney, play multiple roles and all six rarely put a foot or word wrong. His no-nonsense approach to his many trans-migratory lives, mainly as a parrot is a ball to watch. Katie Tumelty (Christmas Eve Can Kill You, Fly Me to the Moon) plays a spider with 150 mouths to feed and her disgust toward the much mentioned but never seen the Exterminator is palpable and her messiah-like scene of The Moth quoting lines from Marquis’ poem sums up this piece which is course not strictly about the life of New York’s insect, cat, spider, and tarantula population, but a reflection on social divide, our view of ourselves and arguably Marie Jones’ broader view of theatre’s evolution during the last century.
Special note must go to Conleth White’s lighting and set design, Fleur Mellor’s fantastic choreography, the Irish dancing scene is worth the ticket price alone and is guaranteed to have viewers clapping along, composer, Chris warner’s score and sound effects bring the play altogether, and Ian McElhinney’s direction is bullet-proof.
So to travel from Broadway to Long Island, London, Paris and giggle all the way, phone the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk
Archy In Manhattan runs until Saturday 08 September. You’ll simply adore this extraordinary piece of theatre.