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The Gigli Concert

Darlinghurst Theatre Company and O’Punksky’s Theatre present THE GIGLI CONCERT by Tom Murphy, at the Eternity Playhouse.

THE GIGLI CONCERT is an Irish play by Tom Murphy (not Tommy Murphy, the Australian writer – he, hopefully is working on a new original play, it has been a while!). THE GIGLI CONCERT was first presented at the Abbey Theatre in 1983 and was revised and presented again, there, in 1991. O’Punksky’s Theatre Company have presented it, now, four times. The leading male Actors, Patrick Dickson and Maeliosa Stafford, and the Director, John O’Hare have always been part of the team. Perhaps, I think, Kim Lewis has also played in one of the productions of this play.

One of the greatest Irish plays of the century – Irish Times

Murphy’s words waltz through the auditorium in musical waves …a fabulous piece – Irish Press

The play is a mighty entertainment … It is a flamboyant all-enveloping swirling cloak of a play rather than a made-to-measure strait-jacket – Sunday Independent.

This is a wonderful, wonderful play, the jewel in Murphy’s career to date, the like of which one is rarely privileged to see – Sunday Business Post.

O’Punksky’s Theatre Company and this dedicated crew of artists have a similar identification and passion for Mr Murphy’s play. I had never seen the play before, and I read it, recently, to familiarise myself for this performance and, frankly, I was bewildered as to what it was about. What was it saying? Does it mean anything? What is it about this play that fascinates the O’Punksky’s Theatre Company, that causes them to revive it so many times? I hoped the performance would enlighten me. After seeing the production, some eight scenes long, and taking just over three hours to tell on the stage (with an interval), I was still just as baffled as when I had read it. Nothing new was illuminated by the performance. I was still in the darkness of frustrating incomprehension.

JPW King (Patrick Dickson) is a quack psychologist – a DYNAMATOLGIST – an Englishman, who helps people reach their potential for greatness. He has very few clients and is out of sorts and on his beam-ends. One day an Irish Man (Maeliosa Stafford) arrives needing his help – an Irish millionaire who wants to sing like the famous Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli. In the tradition of popular Irish theatre personas, these two men are alcoholics (in this case, vodka, whiskey), and have problems in sustaining relationships and have sexual ‘hang-ups’ with their wives. Mr King is having an on-going sexual liaison with a married woman, Mona (Kim Lewis), on a convertible sofa-bed in his office/digs, between unsettling telephone conversations with his wife, and visits from the Gigli would-be.

In the literary heritage of Irish writings, the pursuit of understanding ‘what life is all about’- the great existentialist obsessions of say James Joyce and Samuel Beckett – we come to observe, in the course of the treatment given by Mr King to the Irish Man, his theories around that question, amidst lengthy interruptions/interludes of recorded Gigli – arias, duos, trios and operatic choruses. In fact, the music is given such prominence in the exposition of the play, dictated by the writer, that it becomes a kind of character in its own right – that the lyrics are in Italian, does not necessarily assist to elucidate their action in the play, and, if as Mr O’Hare suggests, the spiritual realm is the desired affect of the music choices, a better Sound Design for aural impact, was needed.

Mr Dickson gives a graphically articulated meta-theatrical performance, using all his skills, as JPW King and, although, a little grotesque in scale to begin with, gradually, because of its passionate consistency, becomes a mesmerising attraction. It may be scaled to such a degree of expression, to unconsciously (consciously?) compensate for the work of Mr Stafford. For Mr Dickson’s is a performance that is diametrically opposite in style to the intense internalised ‘stewing’ of Mr Stafford as the client, the Irish Man – where much seems to be happening, but what exactly, and why, is not communicated with any clarity. Mr Stafford appears to know what this character is ‘stewing’ and comprehends the dramaturgical function of him but does not assist us, at all, with communicative clues.  This puzzling stylistic opposition in the performance styles of the two leading men, produces a dis-connect between the two actors/characters, that I could only surmise, since they have played these roles together before, that they, and Mr O’Hare, the Director, were making a deliberate theatrical choice for our perception. I was, however, discombobulated by the offered work – I was completely puzzled, as have been several of my friends who have seen this production, at a later time.

In contrast, the scenes between Mr Dickson and Ms Lewis have a communicated reality and journey, their interaction developing perceptible narrative and revelation of character. These scenes are, indeed, a welcome respite to the experiencing of the rest of the play and production choices – there is a recognisable human dilemma going-on in these scenes. Mr Dickson and a moving Ms Lewis have a relationship and clear narrative, which can be read. A pity the scenes are so relatively short, then.

In the program notes there is a suggestion that there is a Faustian pact in THE GIGLI CONCERT – Ah-ha! Is it, then, that the Irish Man (with his red-lined overcoat) is Mephistopheles? And Mona is Marguerite, who in the embrace of her death from cancer, releases King as Faust into the realm of a redeemed life, who after an attempt at suicide, in an drug-induced hallucinogenic state, manages, to do the humanly impossible, and sings like Gigli? – a miracle = THE GIGLI CONCERT!


If that is so, the problem with this production lies with Mr Stafford who is playing the metaphor of The Irish Man as Mephistopheles, and not a clear enough human being, an Irish Man with a problem that he needs cured. He is playing a kind of ‘symbolist’ interpretation of the Irish Man (think, Maeterlinck), who in style is forcing the operatic/pantomimic gestures that Mr Dickson has had to adopt, whilst Ms Lewis attempts to ground the play in a realistic world. That realist world was present in the Set Design offers of Gordon Burns and the costume Design of Alison Bradshaw. Mr O’Hare seems to have lost control, or perspective, on this play production’s clarities.

If my ‘academic’ surmise is so, as to the Faustian metaphor of Mr Murphy’s play, it was never apparent in the theatrical unravelling action of this production. I needed to buy a program and to read of those references, and then, by-the-by, extrapolate that information for myself. My friends who saw it at another performance did not purchase a program, did not have my later advantage, and so were enormously frustrated and bored – in fact they left at the interval – three hours of puzzlement is a long time to endure, under those ‘lost’ circumstances.

THE SEAFARER, the last production presented by O’Punksky’s Theatre Company in 2012, was so much more satisfying. This fourth re-visitaion to Tom Murphy’s THE GIGLI CONCERT, by O’Punksky’s Theatre Company, seems to me, one to many, and that it has lost its clarities,  in this production, whatever the passionate beliefs of the artists re-creating the play for us.

How about a Brian Friel, its been too long without him:

3. ARISTOCRATS. (1979)
4. TRANSLATIONS. (1980).

6 replies to “The Gigli Concert”

  1. We loved your play last night. Absolutely heart felt- beautifully performed and mise en scene – loved the erratic OTT philosophy tomes and that wild dancing to Verdi that we have all done… And especially the meditive candle at the end. Clem adored it and Miguel lapped it all up too and you couldn't find two better candidates for existentialist crisises than them!!! A pleasure to meet you too John, you have a beautiful voice! Good luck with the remaining showz!
    Christabel Blackman

  2. no comments???? This is sad news Kevin. You are slipping up in your duties. I know that there have been several attempts by several unhappy campers. Have you a problem with comment or debate? The upside I suppose is that no one is commenting on your garbage…..therefore I can conclude that no-one is reading your garbage….so the contradictory nonsense you tried to disguise as intelligent opinion may finally put you and your blog to bed.Night Night.

  3. This programming is a flashback to the old darlo and I hope that they aim for a higher standard than this tired nonsense.
    All My sons and Falsettos were a magnificent beginning. Truly competitive with the higher ticket priced venues. This was lazy programming and the Seafarer was so damn brilliant, my expectations were so high, they should have revived that show instead of this. The group has not lifted to the higher standard required of this new venue. Extremely disappointing.

  4. Congratulations Mr Kevin Jackson you are the epitome of Tall Poppy Syndrome and the reason why so many brilliant Australian artists move overseas. Keep it up and you will have no theatre left to review.

    As an acting teacher and director surely you have the mental capacity to understand "The Gigli Concert" or perhaps your heart is closed and your mind too small, which is in fact permeating throughout this review and no doubt where the root of your "frustration" lies.

    Answer me this Mr Jackson, is ignorance bliss?

    Stafford is a superb actor, so superb I had to see him twice. His presence is so magnetic he could play the character mute and I would still be moved.

    O'Hares direction is an exquisite work of art with such beauty I was moved to tears both times I saw the play.

    If the O'Punsky's "The Gigli Concert" were a piece of fine art it would be painted by Caravaggio, for it is O'Hares dynamic and thought provoking direction which echoes the theatrical use of chiaroscuro with such perceptual experience only the finest director, like himself could manifest.

    It is clear Kevin Jackson (a name which too often gives my gag reflexes an exhausting workout) that this review reflects nothing about O'Punsky's brilliant production of "The Gigli Concert" and more about your ignorance as a theatre reviewer (forgive my ignorance but who is Kevin Jackson?) which you get away with time and time again.

    Mr Jackson it is clear you will never sing like Gigli!

  5. I went to see The Gigli Concert last Sat night because I wanted to check out the new Eternity Playhouse and the tickets were cheap. I knew nothing about this play or even Gigli. Three hours is a long time in a theatre for me nowadays and in the past ten years I have sat through too many re-runs of old classics which may have been cutting edge in their day but now… (family dysfunction ….*yawn*) This is why my friends and I have been fast dispensing with our (expensive) subscriptions to the trendy theatres.
    I did not expect for my $38 to see such a tour de force as this play. Superb! Here were real human beings revealing, developing, growing, and healing through their real interactions with each other. I got tears in my eyes at one point and that’s no small feat. It was funny and moving and it rang so true despite the craziness. I never once noticed the time (oh, maybe one of those Gigli arias was a little too long). I felt that I ‘got’ this play and I could see that playwright, director, cast and crew had worked skilfully to help me get there.
    The pivotal actor of the play to me was Maeliosa Stafford. His performance was mesmerising. I could not take my eyes off him – that voice, that delivery, that stance… his very silhouette was perfect. Yes, there was a dramatic difference in the performance styles of the two men. Mr Dickson’s character is scatty, inconsistent, indecisive and somewhat hysterical in the first half of the play. From the moment the Irishman builder enters the play he provides the tether, a point of focus that JPW King badly needs. But we later learn that the Irishman’s seemingly clear goal and definite manner is a mask of very tight control. In the second half of the play he cracks and breaks down and the dynamics between these two men reverses. I agree that Mona is the ‘breath of reality’ coming in, as she does, from outside all the time. She gives the audience a respite from the intensity of what’s going on between the two more than a little unhinged main protagonists and she is the important lifeline to the real world for JPW King.
    My heartfelt congratulations to the director, the cast, the music man (though at times a bit loud over the voices), the set design…. dammit, even the costumes were JUST RIGHT. A wonderful play.

  6. Standing ovation last night. Some had tears in their eyes. Says it all really don't you think?

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