I went to the reading of Blake – the anticipated new play by Thomas Kilroy – in the Samuel Beckett Theatre on Saturday night. I originally intended to write a detailed piece on the play but decided my thoughts would be better left published for if/when the play is staged. This way, I’m not spoiling it for anyone who wasn’t at the reading or would prefer to wait and see a full-scale commissioned production.
What I will say about the play is that it is a Kilroy piece through-and-through: a drama about an individual suffering the brunt of the consequences of their culture’s thoughts and actions. Kilroy’s play is about the English poet, painter, and mystic William Blake, and his confinement in a medical institution for “lunatics”. The play is set at the dawn of the Romantic age, where the fancies of Blake’s visions receive no welcome. England’s concern is solely with fighting off Napoleon in the name of “civilization”, and inventive flights of the imagination such as these are only harmful to the practical inquisitions of the Enlightenment period. William’s wife Catherine pleads desperately for her husband’s release, and the bargains put before her test the extraordinary love between her and her husband.
Kilroy’s writing is as beautiful as ever, bequeathing the ironies of his story with poetic delivery. His hand for humour still tickles the gravity of his characters’ climates. The expressionist style that he always took fancy to in his scene descriptions still beats through his work, though not as prominent as in Talbot’s Box. With Blake, it is a song that peeks through the play’s realist settings. Like Christ Deliver Us!, the outcome of the story does take an expressionist route. I personally found the “We live under the sign of a question mark” climax of Christ Deliver Us! to be the play’s weakest move, so it is with such caution that I treat Blake’s endgame. We will see.
This reading was put together by Irish theatre director supreme Patrick Mason (whose previous collaborations with Kilroy include Talbot’s Box and The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde). His cast of seven is filled with very likeable actors with impressive resumés, among them: Jim Norton (Tony winner for his performance in Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer), Barbara Brennan (of Hugh Leonard’s The Lily Lally Show fame), Cathy Belton and Michael McElhatton (both of whom had supporting roles as Mr. And Mrs. Grainger in Kilroy’s Christ Deliver Us! last year), and Brian Bennett (of 21st century pioneers The Company). I really hope that as much of this creative team remains if/when the play is commissioned, especially Norton and Brennan, who had brilliant chemistry as Mr and Mrs Blake.
As for a commissioned production of Blake in the near future: nothing has been announced yet. I would say the odds are in our favour. Kilroy is on the board of the Abbey Theatre after all. Here’s hoping that it’s sometime in 2012.
What did everybody else think?