Two Sore Legs
By Brenda Murphy
At the Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Edinburgh Fringe, Ballymena, Omagh, Antrim, Monaghan, Strabane and many more have had their fun, now playwright Brenda Murphy has brought her newest play home to roost. But it doesn’t feel like a new work, it seems to have been writing itself over a couple of generations. Two Sore Legs is her homily to her late mother, Bridie.
No hiding behind the wiles of high tempo credits of Brenda Murphy’s hits like Crazy or Baby It’s Cold Outside; no big songs or theatrical magic. To do so to the memory of her mum would be crass. In this tempered play we get to see a more intimate side of the west Belfast stalwart.
The set, well what set? A coffin sits to the audience’s right, a simple pine chair to our left. The backdrop is black. No tricks, no props, no highly choreographed set changes or unfurling of sunsets, moonlight or the bric-a-brac that can often confuse and delay many plays.
Director Martin Lynch and his non-profit Green Shoot Productions show that sometimes, less is definitely more. The plot is easy enough: the telling of a life. An unmarried mother in the 1950s constantly cajoled by the local priest to hand over her kids to the church, a mother not short on ambition, tenacity and humour. This is not a joke a minute play. The writer works hard to find humour in the trials and tribulations of a Bridie, a ‘sinner’ who won’t repent. And there-in lays the crux of this moving piece of theatre.
From a plagiarist merchant seaman father with a love of poems, yet married to another; a kid standing outside bars in the Docks on payday; dirt-birds and Teddy Boys; Butlins red coat; sliver service waitress; WWI, WWII, Limbo; internment, births, deaths and lives seen through the eyes of a woman who by today’s standards would be considered normal enough, but back before the liberal 60s, and especially in faith run Northern Ireland, the mum is a pariah. Local women think she’s a slag, a constant through-out the play’s hour and fifteen minutes, her kids think she’s a wonder… and so too does the audience. Speaking of which, Brenda Murphy’s plays never cease to amaze me with her crowd of followers. The long and short is her universal appeal. She may be from the Falls, happens to be working class, yet the great washed turn out for her shows with as much appreciation as her muckers from the west, east and north. If there is truly classless theatre
Two Sore Legs is as close to embodying it as you will get.
I’m not a fan of one actor shows. It can be confusing but thankfully due to ace writing, fine direction and a fantastic actress, this one pulls it off. Maria Connolly – Dancing Shoes, Howl – flicks from character to character without a flinch. American, Irish, male, female, adult, child, there seems to be no end to her talents. The chair is only sat on twice, the coffin never realised, the stage walked on with authority. Far removed from props and gimmicks, Connolly is at her best. She takes a damn good script and aches and smiles every moment of it. There are of course songs, mostly a cappella: little interludes sometimes slowing, other times pacing; always well-chosen and fit for the moment.
This is simply a work of love. If there is a Heaven, a higher plain, then Murphy’s Ma Bridie will be looking down with delight.
5 out of 5 Nerds