The Murphy’s Big Family Test

The Murphy’s Big Family Test

Da, Mickie and Ma
Sister and Tommy

Cork family, the Murphys, Ma and Da and the four teens, is in danger of being torn apart as their kids begin to stretch the boundaries. Nothing is sacred anymore as religion and sex are tested by the growing teens.

Squabbles are frequent as the parents struggle to cope and the unlikely cure is Fish and Chips and Mushy peas from Petrassi’s. Wonder though for how many Thursday nights (Ma doesn’t do the shopping ‘til Friday) that solution will work!

The background*: Set in Cork, its story carries us back to the sixties, Vatican 2, the Late Late Show and introduces us to the Murphys: Mam, Dad and their four children, Eddie, Annie, Mickie and the hero of our tale, 12-year-old Tommy, a precocious kid who is starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. He believes God put us on earth to "have fun," and he's trying to figure out why his family isn't having any.

After breaking box office records all over the U.S., "Over the Tavern," by Tom Dudzick the beloved American hit comedy about a family in Buffalo, has been lovingly transformed by Dolores Mannion to an Irish family in Cork City.

This is a family drama (teenagers, finances, pressures of work) and could well be over a shop or indeed not over anything at all. It is essentially a comedy, though there is hurt too. After all, comedy and tragedy are opposite sides of the drama coin, never far from each other.

The song, Little Arrows, is used as a theme for the show and this line - But you'll know it when they hit you, 'cause they hurt a little bit – is appropriate as the rule of dedicated nun Sister hits home on the bare palm or indeed as some cutting jibe finds its mark. Many of us will remember those little hurts, maybe not so little, hammered at school and hammered again at home for being hammered at school.

Could tell some tales here, none of them too serious, but the silence enforced by the schools system at the time led to unspeakable horrors and many of those involved at the receiving end never got to see the comedy side of the coin.

But there is comedy galore here, much of it brilliantly illustrated by the teenage actors. Highlight perhaps was when the gangly Eddie, the eldest son, needlessly blurts out an admission to an indiscretion in the steely presence of the oppressive Sister.

It is his younger brother Tommy that Sister Mary Agnes is after, a chase that ends with the nun collapsing on the Murphy floor and her life being saved by the very same Tommy. The good sister’s condition had been exasperated by the protective mother seizing and breaking her ruler, by the remarks of the father, overzealous to get his family back on the right religious track, and by a shout or two of “shit” from Mickie, the youngest.

In the end, there is a reconciliation of sorts with the nun, who is to retire, and then between the members of the family with Da taking them out to eat at Petrassi’s. Just wonder how long the peace lasted! Maybe not much longer than the mushy peas.

The experienced pair of Fionula Linehan and Gerry Conway are brilliant as the parents while Martina Carroll, another experienced player, turns in a very believable Sister Mary Agnes (wonder why she wasn’t booed at times!).

But the kids steal the show. I know Tommy had the lead part but I wouldn’t really want to pick one above the other. Of course, Michael Morris (Tommy) is top notch but then so are Michael McLaughlin (Eddie), Diandra Ni Bhuachalla (love her pouting yet fragile Annie) and Michael Barry (Mickie).

So well done to the cast, to director Dolores Mannion and her crew and to the Cork Arts Theatre for reviving this popular show. Indeed I'm sure all in local theatre will be encouraged by its success on Wednesday night and particularly by the talent shown by the four young people.

I enjoyed it and I’m sure you will too. It runs until Saturday, the 1st of September. Wednesday was the opening night and Cllr Joe Kavanagh (deputising for the Lord Mayor) attended and congratulated all concerned, saying he was proud to see all the local talent involved. We were all proud when we stood up at the end to applaud.

• From the website of the Cork Arts Theatre