This week we’re being treated to a stellar review of Lambo, which we were lucky enough to catch in the Droichead Arts Centre, by our very own Andy McLoughlin!
The Many Faces (and voices) of Gerry Ryan in “Lambo”- Droichead Arts Centre
Lambo, written by Hugh Travers and directed by Ronan Phelan was never going to be an easy undertaking. Starring Michael Ford Fitzgerald, Michael Ford Fitzgerald, Michael Ford Fitzgerald, and (you guessed it) Michael Ford Fitzgerald; the play deals with the scandal Gerry Ryan embroiled himself in in 1987 as an up and coming yet still undiscovered radio DJ. The story goes that after being sent on a Castaway-esque survival trip to the Wild Wild West of Connemara, Ryan and some fellow bottom feeders at RTE returned to Dublin and appeared on The Late Late show claiming to have killed a baby lamb with a “rock in a sock.” The amateur presenter now has to deal with his newfound publicity and all the trials and tribulations that come with it.
The obvious difficulties associated with writing a legendary radio broadcaster are no small feat to overcome. The primary of these for me was the ever present danger of the play becoming a simplistic love letter to a man, rather than allowing for the worries and weaknesses which are necessary to develop a well rounded character. More of a sort of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” the play is more interested in looking at how somebody as superficially glib and dry as himself deals with being thrust into the surreal world of the public eye. It’s a thin line between disrespectful and sympathetic and Travers toes it well.
Where the performance falls down a little is in the pacing. For a one man show with nothing to play with other than an electric billboard and a stool for props, the fight against monotony is a relentless one. At no point does the play feel overly long (clocking in at a very manageable 60 minutes), but in maintaining its momentum, it perhaps pulls a few too many rabbits out of hats. Whether it’s bringing the lights up in the theatre to break down a fourth wall that wasn’t really there in the first place, or impressive strobe light effects used during his most desperate encounters with the public, it can all become a little exhausting after a while. Ultimately, the show is at its best when it takes its time; whether it’s the surprisingly tense moment of truth for the lamb in question, or seeing Ford Fitzgerald squirm under the pressure of the authorities’ questioning.
Another issue at play is that the notorious household figure died only four years ago and, with his iconic voice and mannerisms still fresh in our minds, a poor impersonation could seem cringe worthy at best and a tasteless parody at worst. This is where Michael Ford Fitzgerald establishes himself as the true star of the play. He transitions seamlessly between Gerry Ryan and the myriad other well recognisable Irish tropes seen in the play. Whether it’s a Gaybo impression to rival Mario Rosenstock, or his old timey characterisations of the citizens of Connemara reminiscent of Craggy Island, Ford Fitzgerald almost immediately establishes himself as a character actor worth remembering. Perhaps even more notable though, is the depiction he gives of Gerry Ryan himself. Without subtracting from the comedy, we’re given an endearing sense of the man trying to keep his nerve and his sanity under a veil of general misanthropy, even if it is in quite a Basil Fawlty kind of way.
All in all, if you’re looking for a nice play that will make you nostalgic for a time that you weren’t even alive to experience (in my case anyway), this could very well be for you. Full of witty quips and phrases like “Craic Vacuums” and “Frau Farmer”, the best and simplest word to describe it is “enjoyable”. Though the text does have its moments of media satire, including a 5 minute psychedelic pseudo dream sequence in which the protagonist laments on the omnipresent nature of media from broadsheets to redtops, from TV to Teletext and from radio to (oddly) blogs, these moments seem like more of a detour from the simple enjoyment rather than a feature of it.
Special recognition must also go to the costume department for providing Gerry’s deliciously tacky suit, and to the eponymous lamb, expertly played by the collective imaginations of the audience.
7 marks out of 10