It's the 1950s and Gar (Paul Reid) is about to leave the little Irish town where he's lived all his life, and where he works in his widowed father's general store. An aunt who lives in Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where she spent most of her days has found him a job there and we meet him the night before he flies out, probably leaving home and family behind forever. He looks back over his life in Ballybeg, in particular hoping he can find the courage to try and finally connect with his emotionally distant father. In Brian Friel's Philadelphia Here I Come! which Lyndsey Turner revives at the Donmar Warehouse, we see the contrast between the public face the young man puts on and how he really feels, as he interacts with "Gar in Private" (Rory Keenan,) a personification of his inner monologue who reminisces, frets and tries to build up his confidence to confront his demons while he still can.
Rob Howell has designed an impressive set (although putting an extra pillar on the stage of a theatre whose entire circle is already restricted view seems a bit perverse) which is atmospherically lit by Tim Lutkin. The heart of the play is obviously the painfully sad relationship with his uncommunicative father (James Hayes,) the private Gar desperately trying to make his public self bring up a cherished childhood memory, the public self actually barely able to exchange pleasantries with his father. It's a bit too obviously the heart of the play though, as these moments have a tragic intensity, while everything else lacked any real emotional connection. Saying goodbye to his old friends, the girl who got away, even the housekeeper who was the closest thing he had to a mother, all fall flat despite a strong performance from Valerie Lilley. In fact acting and direction are strong all round, but with the exception of the powerful father/son scenes, the play was neither good nor bad, just...there. The programme notes assure us Philadelphia Here I Come! is an "important" play, but both Ian and I agreed we'd struggle to tell you why that should be. Maybe you need to be Irish.